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Restore the kelp, restore the coast

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 25, 2008

 

It's safe to say Southern Californians take the ecosystems and environments of California for granted. How else would you explain Los Angeles and San Bernardino county. Removed from their very nature by a century of growth and greed, human populations have pushed native habitats to the edge collapse, if not extinction, to make more room for more people willing to risk it all in pursuit of the highly fabled California dream.

Usually when talk turns to endangered habitats and the species that depend on them for survival, people are talking about coastal sage scrub and the corresponding riparian species. Native terrestrial species are rare in coastal southern California, and have been for several decades. Gnatcatchers, Mountain lions, lynx, mule deer, horned lizards and all others that predate western civilizations are hard pressed for survival because humans aren't big on sharing space or place.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, coastal marine ecosystems have been equally degraded by the hand of man.

Out of sight and out of mind , the coastal habitat known as the California kelp forest is perhaps California's most endangered ecosystem. Diminished by hundreds of human induced impacts, 1000 other species live among the fronds of macrocystis pyrifera, the 200 ft tall "sequoia of the sea." Or used to.

Pollution, climate change and coastal groins and jetties contribute to the unrelenting destruction brought about by industrial deforestation. Richer in minerals than any known land crop, kelp is harvested for consumer products including baby formula, salad dressing, ice cream, Jello pudding, cosmetics and beer. Kelp products are also used in the manufacture of livestock and poultry feed, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and fertilizers.

Restoration of California Kelp forests is key to efforts to restore coastal ecology and natural sand flow along San Diego County's North coast. Reestablishing a healthy kelp community will contribute significantly to shoreline preservation and stabilization.

The interplay of sand and kelp, beach and bluff are connected at bedrock level having evolved over several millennium. Over the last century, starting with roads and railways being built across estuaries, and the beginning of the industrial kelp harvest around 1911 for use in gunpowder production and fertilizer during World War I, and the construction of further impediments to sand mid-century, combined with unchecked population increases, coastal habitats are lucky to have survived at all.

Harvesting kelp does not benefit the local economy, nor does dredging estuaries to put sand on the beach, or allowing detrimental infrastructure to remain in place. is not the answer. Costly, and ultimately futile, sand replenishment does nothing to restore the processes that would negate the need for costly replenishment and shoreline preservation boondoggles.

Coastal restoration will happen when mistakes of the past are undone.

Kelp reforestation is possible. Science and sensibility suggest it can be done with conservative restraint and a commitment to restoring the ecological processes of coastal geology, hydrology and biology. A restored kelp forest from La Jolla to Leucadia will contribute considerably to a localized ecotourism economy.

Kelp reforestation is the answer.

 
 
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