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kelp forests

What are Kelp Forests and How Do They Help the Planet?

August 2, 2020 - Charlotte Ames-Ettridge

Kelp is a type of underwater plant. It is long and brown – a bit like seaweed, but much bigger. In fact, kelps are the world’s largest marine plants and can easily grow to 35 metres! They grow in thick clusters known as kelp forests. 

These forests are found in cool, shallow waters along 25% of the world’s coastlines, in regions where the climate is not too hot. These forests can be found in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ecuador, and the region with the greatest diversity of kelps is the northeastern Pacific, from north of San Francisco, California, to the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.

Kelp can grow incredibly fast, as much as 45 centimetres per day. But unlike forests on land, kelp only live for a few years, and forests can grow or shrink from season to season. 

Kelps are able to grow in places where few other marine plants can. This is because they don’t grow out of the seabed. Instead, they use the big tangle of roots at their base to attach themselves to rocks. They are known as one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth!

How Do Kelp Forests Help the Planet?

Just like forests on land, kelp forests take in carbon from the atmosphere and store it below the ground. 

They are also an important habitat for creatures such as fish, crabs, sea birds and seals. They provide food for these animals, as well as shelter from storms and a place to hide from predators. 

Every animal in the kelp forest ecosystem has an important role to play. Sea otters are especially useful because they eat sea urchins – small spiny creatures that love to feast on kelp. 

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Why are Kelp Forests at Risk and How Can We Protect Them?

Climate change is making our oceans warmer, causing kelp forests to die out. Marine mammals like sea otters must find a new home, leaving sea urchins to eat up any leftover kelps. 

Overfishing causes similar problems. If too many fish are caught, the tiny critters they normally eat will quickly devour the kelps. 

Chemicals used in farming can also enter the ocean and cause other types of algae to grow, pushing out kelp forests. 

Once a kelp forest has completely disappeared, it’s unlikely to ever grow back.

To keep kelp forests healthy, it’s vital that countries around the world take action against climate change. Creating no-fishing zones and cutting back on the chemicals used in farming can also help protect kelp forests and the animals who live in them. 

Featured image by: moonjazz

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