The Flying Shingle
Kelp helpers discover ‘dead zones’ around log booms
Monday, July 29, 2013
Click for larger photo
Bull kelp caught in log boom off Gabriola Island. ~ Photo by Michele Fire-River Heart from Help the Kelp

Members of Help the Kelp –  a group of Gabriolans that is hoping to re-establish flourishing bull kelp beds off the coast of Gabriola Island – have discovered “dead zones” around and under log booms moored off the southwestern coast of Gabriola.
In a Wednesday interview at his home off Orlebar Point, kelp helper Michael Mehta said there are a number of things that could be causing the dead zones, from lack of sunlight on the seabed to tannins from the wood. However one possibility  he thought likely was that log booms appear to be “mowing or harvesting” the kelp as they are dragged through the beds.
Unlike some other sea plants, Mehta explained, bull kelp is destroyed whether you pull it out at the roots, or just cut off its head.
As previously reported, bull kelp provides fish habitat and a number of other functions for ocean creatures.
Also as previously reported, the drive to ‘Help the Kelp’ began on Gabriola in 2009 after Gabriolans noted that once-lush kelp beds off the coasts of Gabriola had vanished, seemingly overnight.
Although it is not known what caused the loss of what Gabriolan Ken Capon once referred to as vast “underwater forests,” efforts were undertaken to reseed the beds, and were partially successful. This year a number of volunteers have been mapping the bull kelp beds around Gabriola as the next step towards returning them to their original fecundity.
Mehta said Wednesday that they found kelp in the log booms off the Gabriola coast.

Kelp facts
Dr. Louie Druehl, who was described by Gary Caine at the Ministry of Agriculture as “the guru on Kelp” confirmed by phone from Bamfield on Thursday that it’s a combination of shade and “bark-shed” that prevents kelp from growing under log booms. He added that kelp is most likely to grow on rocky, rather than soft ocean beds.
Kelp ‘babies’ originally attach themselves to anything they can find on the ocean floor, Druehl explained. As they grow, he said, the bulbs at the top create enough buoyancy that those that have not chosen something heavy enough to hold them to the floor will float – which he called a sort of natural “pruning”. He added that kelp is also an annual plant, that ‘expects’ to die off on a yearly basis.
However he thought if log booms were dragged through kelp beds, the kelp could end up getting sheared off.

Education needed
“The bull kelp canopies are pretty easy to see,” Mehta said. They don’t move, are “often close to shore and  they are easy to avoid.” He thought the issue was “simply a matter of an awareness campaign to let the boomers and operators of the tug vessels know that they should avoid (the kelp beds)”.
When the mapping is completed, Mehta said they will “gladly provide them with detailed maps … so they can have a more comprehensive understanding of where things are to avoid”.
Besides avoiding the beds, Mehta said, he thought the “boomers” could “maybe commit some resources to help”. He said this could range from contributing towards reseeding the kelp, to helping to figure out if there are any ways to mitigate or reduce the damage done by the booms.
Mehta said that his group would be happy to work with industry on this issue. “Our biggest worry,” he said, “is that we’ll start replanting all the kelp canopies in the fall and winter and they’ll just be pulled up again.”
He said this concern also extends to their discovery that boats have been driving through and ripping up the kelp canopies. He said it’s hard to know the extent of the damage that’s being done, but hoped that once they replant they could figure out a way of identifying kelp beds so boaters and boomers could know to avoid them.

Interested in talking
Cam Milne, who is in charge of “fibre supply” at Harmac, said that the log boom spots are leased on a long-term basis through licenses from the Province. He said the areas where the booms are situated don’t move, and log strings and barges are rotated in and out of those locations.
Kathy Evans, of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) confirmed by email Thursday that “FLNRO District Offices are responsible for processing applications related to log booming grounds.”
While Milne said Harmac subleases their log-storage spots from Island Timberlands, he said he was certainly interested in talking with Help the Kelp about this issue. He noted that Harmac is also working locally to help improve conditions in the Nanaimo estuary.
Other companies with log storage off the coast of Gabriola include Western Forest Products and Timber West, Milne said. Further research indicated Rapid Towing and Jones Marine Service also have log storage leases or subleases, and although representatives said those leases are in deeper waters and unlikely to impact kelp beds, some were willing to be part of discussions about what might be done about the issue.
Representatives from Island Timberlands and Western Forest Products did not return The Shingle’s phone call before press time.
Research into which governmental ministry regulates kelp beds did not yield results before press time.

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