Giant kelp forests are one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. Often referred to as the rainforests of the sea, more than 800 species depend on them and we are one of them. We use products everyday that contain algin, a compound extracted from giant kelp.
Over the last 30 years, giant kelp bed densities have been in decline. This is thought to be due to the population explosion in Southern California and an unbalanced food web. According to the California Department of Fish and Game, over the last 30 years kelp forest densities have declined more than 80 percent in Southern California. It is even higher in Orange County.
Seven years ago, I began working on a program to restore the kelp forests of Orange County. I have taught more than 4,000 students how to grow kelp in their classrooms and trained 450 divers to plant it and monitor it. Now, for the first time in 20 years, areas of Newport Beach and Laguna Beach have kelp again thanks to the efforts of all the participants and volunteers. Crystal Cove and Heisler Park have been the areas of focus for restoration. This program has been run in fifteen schools in Orange County. Schools currently working on kelp restoration include Warner Middle School in Westminster, Santiago High School in Garden Grove, Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, and Thurston Middle School in Laguna Beach.
With so much enthusiasm and success behind the project, we are now expanding our efforts to start growing green abalone and white sea bass in the classrooms of Orange County to start restocking these animals into our precious kelp forests. Students will learn about the plight of the abalone as it has gone from overabundant to near extinction (for some species) in one human lifetime. Most students don’t even know what they are! The white sea bass program will be an extension of the HOPE program in the harbors but for the first time, the fish will be grown in the classroom by students. Students will explore careers in aquaculture, fish pathology, ecology, water chemistry, and fisheries management. All of these programs provide a hands-on education and stewards of the ocean.
We are currently seeking funding for the project’s expansion. Huntington Beach High School is looking to start growing white sea bass and Dana Hills High School is looking to start growing abalone.
April 24, 2010 the first annual Laguna Beach KelpFest will be held on Main Beach in Laguna Beach. We are currently planning this event. If you are interested in helping please contact me.
If it were not for all the volunteers that have donated their time and money to this program, it would not have been successful. I thank all of you.