The following is a press release issued by the Center for Biological Diversity:
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned NOAA Fisheries today to grant Endangered Species Act protection to bull kelp, which faces grave threats from climate change and coastal development. The range of these underwater forests extends along the western coast of the United States.
“Extreme heat events over the past eight years have caused immense damage to bull kelp populations, so NOAA Fisheries needs to act quickly,” said Mukta Kelkar, a science intern at the Center. “Bull kelp is an iconic West Coast species and important habitat for fish and sea otters. Endangered Species Act protection will give our kelp forests a safety net.”
After the 2014 marine heatwave, bull kelp populations decreased by 90% along the coasts of Mendocino and Sonoma counties. That marine heat wave was followed by one of the most extreme El Niño events in recorded history, and bull kelp has yet to fully recover.
Kelp forests are a crucial foundation of coastal habitats, providing a barrier to coastal erosion and offering a high rate of primary productivity. Animals like sea otters, salmon, and abalone depend on them for shelter.
But climate change pressure is hastening these forests’ transformation into urchin barrens — after kelp dies off from heat stress, purple sea urchins take over the remnant areas and graze destructively on what’s left.
“Bull kelp urgently needs Endangered Species Act protection to shield it from threats to its survival,” said Kelkar.