New research method expands kelp health monitoring in Puget Sound

The new project uses the diving skills of volunteers to collect data to track the health of Puget Sound’s kelp forests.

CAMANO ISLAND, Wash. – It’s one thing to study forests on land, but it’s quite another to study the “forests” of the sea.

“When we think of forests, most of us think of forests on land, right? But these are underwater forests that do an amazing job of absorbing carbon dioxide, turn into food, which sustains us,” said Betsy Peabody, executive. Director of Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF), a group dedicated to researching and preserving the marine life of its namesake.

The PSRF, with the support of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundationlaunches a kelp monitoring initiative that takes a unique approach to their research.

Although much research has been done at the surface level, Peabody said their “Eyes on the kelp“The monitoring program will go below the surface.

“We’re going to do underwater ecological monitoring with divers,” Peabody said.

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The PSRF initiates the project as bull kelp populations in parts of Puget Sound that have experienced significant declines.

For example, the South Strait has seen an 80% loss of bull kelp forests over the past 50 years, according to the fund. In the central Sound, where Seattle is located, there are places where kelp forests have disappeared entirely, such as around Bainbridge Island.

“Clearly there is a connection between where kelp forests can thrive and where the temperature may be too hot,” Peabody explained.

With support from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, PSRF launched the new project to try to understand why some kelp beds thrive, while others decline.

The kelp monitoring program will span 14 stations across the Sound, from Juan de Fuca Strait to Squaxin Island near Olympia.

To get trained divers to help glean data from kelp beds, the PSRF partnered with the Reef Check Foundation train recreational divers to become underwater scientists.

“I’m just a recreational diver who loves the underwater world,” said Brad Giles. “The underwater world is so beautiful here. You know we are so lucky in Washington to have this beautiful scenery.”

Giles is an avid diver and owns a dive shop in Marysville. He heard about the Kelp Monitoring Project through the Reef Check Foundation and signed up.

“I felt this was an opportunity that I could get out here and give back to the diving community and the community at large,” Giles said.

Giles and a dozen other volunteers, who are already trained divers, set out from a beach at Camano Island State Park and went into the water, where they took pictures and data of the beds. kelp nearby.

“It’s a way to get them involved in the systematic monitoring of these kelp forests, using the same protocols as our scientific divers,” Peabody said.

The kelp monitoring program includes a robotic monitoring component led by The Bay Foundation and Robotic Marauder.