Climate change has been particularly unkind to the planet’s oceans. Rising temperatures have depleted food sources, acidified waters and ultimately made it difficult for marine animals to stay healthy. Like trees, kelp removes carbon from the environment. Now, scientists in Washington’s Hood Canal are testing kelp to see if it can potentially reverse some of the effects of climate change.
“We know that kelp plants take up carbon dioxide and incorporate that carbon into their plant tissues,” says Joth Davis of the Puget Sound Restoration Fund. “So we’ve very hopeful that not only carbon, but nutrients can be taken up and essentially removed from the water column.”
Ocean acidification destroys habitats and hurts wildlife. The “coral that lies beneath the waves” that Mr. Starr sings so fondly of has vanished greatly over the years in systems like the Great Barrier Reef, which has been under threat since the 1980s. More than half of the Reef’s coral has died off in just the last 30 years.
So Davis and his team are performing an unusual experiment. Thousands of kelp spores have been attached to nearly 200 feet of fishing line and lowered into the canal, where they are then latched to a floating buoy. The seedlings are about 10 feet underwater; over time, they will develop into full, “adult” kelp plants where they will collect carbon and additional nutrients to help restore balance to the water. Davis is hopeful they can reduce the effects of ocean acidification and CO2, and lower any threats to marine animals.
The team is funded by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and the process will span five years. In that time, Davis and his team will monitor nearby waters and keep records of CO2 and nutrient levels. Oceanographer Jan Newton is confident that progress will occur in the coming months, but admits the project is only appropriate for resident water sources.
“We know the reactions,” she explained. “But we don’t know if they scale to be significant in nature… We know this isn’t a solution on a global scale. The oceans are huge compared to a little bay where you might be able to make a difference. This is not a fix-it sort of solution.”
Despite its limitations, Newton believes the project will give them time to research a widespread solution that could allegedly work for larger bodies.
The good news is that a similar experiment in Maine has produced positive results. Measuring carbon uptake at a kelp farm in Casco Bay, scientists were able to use macro algae as a way of capturing CO2 in local waters around the farm. They soon noticed that carbon levels went down by a whopping 25 percent. Scientist Nichole Price, who supervised the experiment, says that the end results are solid proof that growing kelp could “help mitigate ocean acidification on a small, local scale.”