The Scientists Fighting to Save the Ocean’s Most Important Carbon Capture System

Jul 5, 2021 at 10:40am

Lucy Sherriff

ANACAPA ISLAND, Calif. — Frank Hurd gently parted the curtains of giant kelp that reached upward through the cold waters of the North Pacific, looking for signs of life.

Kelp forests cover a quarter of the world’s coastlines, stretching from Antarctica to Australia, Mexico to Alaska, providing food and shelter for thousands of species, while sucking carbon from the atmosphere. But over the past decade, thanks to warming waters and overfishing, they’re disappearing.

On this afternoon, Hurd, a marine biologist at the Nature Conservancy, said he was relieved to find thick kelp canopies surrounding an unpolluted patch off Anacapa Island, part of the Channel Islands National Park in California. But, he says, such refuges are becoming harder to find. “The scale of this problem is dire,” Hurd said.

“There really is no single silver bullet option to solve this problem. We need to invest in comprehensive solutions to reestablish healthy, resilient ecosystems,” Hurd said.

Kelp are essentially the ocean’s equivalent of trees. They absorb carbon dioxide and nitrogen compounds, helping clean the atmosphere while capturing up to 20 times more carbon per acre than land forests. They also provide a vital habitat for a broad range of marine life; without them, entire ocean ecosystems would crumble.

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