Of the 23 species of large brown algae native to Puget Sound, bull kelp is the largest (Nereocystis luetkeana). Reaching a canopy height of 60’ or more, this species provides an array of ecosystem services and holds great cultural and economic value to communities around the region. Aerial and dive surveys have been conducted by state natural resources agencies since 1989, yet a paucity of data remains in the north Sound.
For the past three years, citizen scientists in northern Puget Sound have been mapping the location and extent of local bull kelp forests, applying a kayak-based survey protocol developed in 2014 by the Northwest Straits Commission. Using hand-held Global Positioning System units, more than 40 volunteers are helping document observed changes in kelp populations. Data are posted to SoundIQ, contributing to habitat management and protection efforts by partnering federal and state agencies and county governments. CREOi funding supported a part-time coordinator to train volunteers in survey methods, coordinate survey efforts across seven counties, manage data and work with technical experts to assure data quality. In 2016, volunteers surveyed 26 kelp beds in seven counties, logging over 100 individual kelp bed measurements.
CREOi also supported development of a Kelp in the Salish Sea – Story Map and a short film Citizen Science Kelp Project, which debuted for 140 people at the 17thannual Northwest Straits Marine Resources Committees Conference and has been used often for public presentations, community meetings and conferences. Finally, CREOi funding enabled a kelp workshop for volunteers and other project participants. Both strategic planning and celebration, the gathering generated 2017-2018 project goals, including the compilation of historical and contemporary data on bull kelp distribution throughout the Salish Sea.
This work has gained considerable attention for its cost-effective, scientifically robust and collaborative methodologies. The Northwest Straits Initiative is coordinating with Puget Sound Restoration Fund, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA and others engaged in the implementation of rockfish and southern resident killer whale recovery strategies that include protection of kelp as critical habitat. One terrific outcome in 2016-17 is unanimous support from partnering entities for the preparation of a (non-regulatory) kelp recovery plan for Puget Sound, which the Northwest Straits Initiative will begin in Fall 2017. ($17,200)