Seaweed's champions: How science is changing our view of the ocean's least loved plants

Kelp forests around the world are threatened by climate change, overfishing, pollution and development. A growing global interest in their critical role in marine ecosystems could help save them, but will it be too little, too late?

Paul Tullis reports for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.


In short:

  • Kelp provides vital ecosystem services, including habitat provision and oxygen production, outpacing even the Amazon rainforest.
  • Despite historical underfunding, kelp forest research is gaining momentum worldwide.
  • Covering vast areas of the ocean, kelp forests are crucial for marine biodiversity, acting as nurseries and shelters for various marine species.

Key quote:

“Kelp forests provide critical ecosystem services to humans, similar to those provided by coral reefs and tropical forests."

— Thomas Wernberg, marine biologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth

Why this matters:

Kelp forests provide a dense habitat and rich feeding grounds for a wide array of marine life, from invertebrates and fish to sea otters and seals. Beyond their ecological value, kelp forests are also champions of carbon sequestration. They absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, thus playing a crucial role in mitigating climate change.

There's wide acknowledgement of the vulnerability of marine ecosystems in an ocean that's rapidly warming and acidifying, but the collective will to enact protective measures in the ocean is often lacking.

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