June 19, 2024

What It’s Like to Document California’s Disappearing Kelp Forests

In the summertime of 2022, documentary videographer Tyler Schiffman set out to record an environment that is quickly fading away. Commissioned to develop a brief movie on Californias struggling underwater kelp forests for The Nature Conservancys quarterly magazine, Schiffman understood where to begin. Growing up surfing and eventually spear-fishing on the West Coast, he d seen the collapse firsthand.

What Schiffman saw maturing– and later concerned document– was the rapid decline of Californias undersea kelp ecosystems. Certain types of kelp (itself a type of seaweed) can reach more than 100 feet tall, forming giant undersea forests home to a sprawling range of marine life.

Tyler Schiffman utilizes a specialized lens to get a macro close up of purple urchin. © Tyler Schiffman

Tyler Schiffman and crew capture video of a tub of purple urchins that have actually been gathered from the ocean. The purple urchin population has exploded recently as its bane, the sunflower sea star, has struggled. © Tyler Schiffman

” My whole career has really stimulated from this story given that I was a youngster,” he states.

Schiffman set out to document their work. He had currently made a number of previous movies analyzing the problem. For this documentary he took his cam underwater to movie the remaining environment. (His team lucked out and had amazing presence, he says.) On land, he interviewed those working to assist protect the kelp, consisting of a commercial sea urchin scuba diver.

An urchin diver smashes purple urchins on the sea flooring off the coast of California. Other methods urchin divers use consist of vacuuming up purple sea urchins or setting traps for them. © Ralph Pace

A version of this story ran in Nature Conservancy publications summertime problem. Find out more about how scientists, fishers and conservationists are attempting to assist these underwaters forests– and enjoy Schiffmans documentary– at nature.org/magazine.

Oregon-based wildlife professional photographer Morgan Heim documented how scientists working at a lab off the coast of Washington state are studying how to better breed sunflower sea stars, which act as natural predators for the kelp-consuming purple sea urchins. And California-based photographer Ralph Pace recorded the state of Californias kelp forests right now.

Dead kelp cleans up on a beach in California. © Ralph Pace

On land, he talked to those working to assist protect the kelp, consisting of an industrial sea urchin diver.

Sunflower sea stars grow from a size noticeable just under a microscopic lense to grownups up to 1 meter throughout. After a current evaluation, NOAA has actually proposed listing the sunflower sea star, Pycnopodia helianthoides, as “threatened” on the Endangered Species List.

Despite the fast decrease of the Northern California kelp forests, there still are swathes of healthy habitats that remain. © Ralph Pace

” Surfing, I would constantly get caught in the kelp. “And then I started snorkeling around and seeing what was beneath the surface. And then, as soon as I began to see this, the environment that I enjoy so much just disappeared before my eyes.”

At Friday Harbor Laboratories, a University of Washington facility on San Juan Island, a researcher takes a look at a growing sunflower sea star. The lab, in a partnership between the university and The Nature Conservancy, is raising sea stars and studying their growth in hopes of eventually reintroducing the struggling sea stars to the wild. © Morgan Heim

In the previous decade though, some 96% of Northern Californias kelp forest has actually disappeared, leaving researchers and conservationists rushing to protect and restore it. Their work has actually concentrated on a range of opportunities from getting rid of some of the purple sea urchins that eat the kelp to assisting enhance the sunflower sea star population (a natural sea urchin predator).

” The hardest part is this story is so convoluted and theres so many elements from the sea stars to a giant warmwater blob to the various kinds of urchins,” he states. “But its pressing and its important since the kelp ecosystem is so essential. Its currently disappearing and thats a scary sight.”

Oregon-based wildlife photographer Morgan Heim documented how scientists working at a laboratory off the coast of Washington state are studying how to better type sunflower sea stars, which act as natural predators for the kelp-consuming purple sea urchins. The lab, in a collaboration in between the university and The Nature Conservancy, is raising sea stars and studying their growth in hopes of eventually reestablishing the having a hard time sea stars to the wild. In the wild, healthy sunflower sea stars are crucial predators in the undersea kelp forests. When the environment is in balance, sunflower sea stars and otters keep the urchin population in check and restricting the kelp they consume.

In the wild, healthy sunflower sea stars are essential predators in the undersea kelp forests. When the community remains in balance, sunflower sea stars and otters keep the urchin population in check and limiting the kelp they take in. © Morgan Heim