Conservation, Research and Education Opportunities International

Citizen Science Kelp Project: Mapping and monitoring the spatial distribution of local bull kelp populations

Northwest Straits Foundation

Project goal: Ensure the successful oversight of 2016 bull kelp monitoring by citizen scientists in northern Puget Sound, including educational outreach and incorporation of survey data into SoundIQ.

Of the 23 species of large brown algae native to Puget Sound, bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) is the largest. Reaching a canopy height of 60’ or more, this species provides an array of ecosystem services (e.g., food, shelter, buffer to storms and erosion) and holds huge cultural and economic value.

Jefferson-AlBergsteinAerial and dive surveys have been conducted by state natural resources agencies since 1989, yet limited information exists in the Northwest Straits region. Concern about localized declines in bull kelp was impetus for a new effort by the Northwest Straits Initiative, to collect data for use in nearshore planning and research. This is a natural evolution for this citizen science program following years of eelgrass and forage fish monitoring and protection. The Northwest Straits Foundation (Foundation) is the nonprofit partner in the Initiative, and a charter member of the Salish Sea International Kelp Alliance.

As with eelgrass and other marine plant habitats, many factors are known to affect bull kelp populations. Stressors include reduction in light, sedimentation, excessive nutrient runoff, increases in water temperature, and competition from the invasive seaweed Sargassum. Grazing by sea urchins and kelp crabs can also have a dramatic impact on kelp. Citizen science volunteers, comprising Marine Resources Committees in seven counties, first piloted boat-based survey methods for local bull kelp beds in 2014.

With support from CREOi, the Foundation will fill an important gap in this mapping and monitoring project, ensuring consistency in data gathering and processing by bringing on a coordinator for the 2016 field season. We will work with the Initiative’s volunteer pilot to generate aerial images of study sites, and with Transect Films to produce a 3-4 minute clip for television and social media outreach to foster public understanding about the importance of kelp. Citizen science surveys will be done during the peak of annual bull kelp growth in July – September; data will be uploaded to SoundIQ, the Northwest Straits Initiative online data platform. ($17,200)