The Flying Shingle
Help the Kelp returns
Monday, May 27, 2013
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Help the kelp organiser Michael Mehta holds up a piece of bull kelp that has washed ashore. ~ Photo by Chris Bowers

There is some evidence of increased growth of bull kelp off the shores of Gabriola, but kelp helpers who attempted to reseed kelp beds in the fall of 2009 don’t know whether it was due to their efforts.
So they are undertaking a second initiative to reseed the beds,  Gabriolan Michael Mehta said in a Tuesday interview with The Shingle at his home on Berry Point Road. But this time they will use a number of approaches to see which works best, he said.
As previously reported, in October 2009 Gabriolans Ken Capon and Victor Anthony issued a call to islanders to support an initiative to reseed once lush kelp beds along the coast of Gabriola. Volunteers and cash poured in, and on a cold December day a number of volunteers gathered at Gabriolan John Campbell’s residence then climbed aboard Gabriolan Wylie Qua’s boat to plant kelp off Orlebar Point.

Many services
Bull kelp forests provide many services to the ocean’s ecosystems, Mehta said. “It’s a nursery for all kinds of creatures. It’s a place for foraging fish and salmon to thrive,” he said. “Without bull kelp canopies and other kinds of rich ecosystems that are kelp-supported, the temperature of the ocean (quickly) increases. It provides many nutrients and minerals to the area,” and is a commercially valuable plant used in many human products.
“Without the bull kelp particularly,” Mehta said, “our ecosystems are in serious trouble, because we are seeing a system out of control.”  He said sea urchins, which eat the kelp, are growing rapidly to the point that kelp helpers may try controlling them on one part of the island to see if that will bring back the kelp beds.
People dropping anchors in bull kelp also damages the beds, Mehta said.

Start with mapping
The kelp helpers will spend the summer months mapping the shoreline at low tide, Mehta said, to identify how the kelp forests are doing at various locations. He said this will require both mapping and GPS knowledge.
“I want to make this the equivalent of a public citizen’s science project,” Mehta said, much like the Christmas Bird Count. “The map will be put up on Google Earth,” he said, “and it will be an open source kind of project so we can have other people plug in data.” He said they are also hoping to train other communities on how to reseed kelp.
All kinds of volunteers are needed, Mehta said, including divers to check out the best locations to plant the kelp, people on the boat to keep GPS coordinates (which they will train volunteers to do), and fundraisers to raise the cash they will need to pay for fuel, the sporophytes (baby kelp), mapping, etc.

Three approaches
They will try a number of approaches to planting, Mehta said. He said last time they tied rocks onto lines with sporophytes on them and dropped them into areas where they thought the kelp would thrive.
He said  Gabriolans Paul Sullivan and Qua, also tried to wrap sporophyte lines along a rope running between two anchors, but above the sea bed to keep the sporophytes away from predators. He said when they checked there were wild kelp on the lines, but not the bull kelp they’d planted.
They also want to try a “spore patch transplant” Mehta said. He said this was a new approach that would involve selectively harvesting spore patches from a few healthy plants, which divers will take down to the sea bed. He said this is similar to what nature does.
Part of the challenge with this approach will be knowing when the plants are ripe, Mehta said, adding that they will have to confer with marine biologists. He said Gabriola has some excellent experts they can ask.
After their initial meeting, which Mehta said was scheduled for Wednesday, the kelp helpers hope to begin surveying. He said they will have to come up with some way of assessing the kelp’s density, which he hoped would help them figure out why it grows in some areas, and not in others. 
From there they will “fill in the blanks,” he said.
Reached Friday for comment on the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting, Mehta said the group is looking forward to trying a range of new approaches “to see if we can bring back bull kelp to the levels seen in previous decades”.
They’ve learned that Mayne and Hornby islanders have also been mapping and seeding bull kelp, Mehta added, and the group will connect with those other islanders over the summer.
Help the kelp will also participate in World Oceans Day on June 9, he said.

Collaboration
Mehta also thought they might be able to collaborate with people who are doing eelgrass mapping around Gabriola. He said there is an ecological interaction between eelgrass and kelp beds, and “it would be great if we can get them to work together”.
The whole Salish Sea has seen a rapid decline in kelp beds, Mehta said, and they are trying to build pan-Salish Sea approach to eco-system rebuilding. “We’ve done so much damage to these ecosystems,” he said, “that we now require people to be active and work to repair them.” For example, he said, he would like to get the permits necessary to install wolf eel nurseries in the area, as they prey on the sea urchins that eat the kelp.
More volunteers for the project are welcome, Mehta concluded.
“Our new blog is:  helpthekelp.blogspot.ca,” he said.

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