Oregon

Kelp Alliance

The Oregon Kelp Alliance (ORKA) represents diverse interests in kelp forest ecosystems, and includes commercial urchin divers, researchers, managers, conservationists, tour guides, sport divers, chefs, and other community members in support of healthy kelp forests.

The Problem

Around the globe, evidence has emerged in recent years concerning the global drivers affecting kelp forests at multiple scales. In addition, local stressors and regional variation in the effects of these drivers dominate kelp dynamics. In certain areas, disappearance of important kelp forest populations is drawing attention from the scientific community, natural resource managers, commercial divers and fishermen, sport divers, ecotourists and the businesses who serve them, and coastal communities.

More recently, studies have revealed the rapid climate-driven catastrophic shift in 2014 from a previously robust kelp forest to unproductive large scale urchin barrens in northern California, an ecoregion bearing many similarities to that found on the southernmost coast of Oregon. Most recently, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, in collaboration with commercial urchin divers, completed a survey of sea urchin populations at Orford Reef, reporting a preliminary estimate of ~350 million purple sea urchins, a more than 10,000-fold increase on this single reef since 2014.

In Port Orford, Oregon’s sea urchin capital since the initiation of the fishery here in the early 1990’s, career urchin divers began to bring attention to the the emerging urchin population boom and bull kelp disappearance in 2014, and have worked with ODFW shellfish biologists to monitor and survey urchin populations for years prior to these more recent events. More recently, the emergence of a local ecotour business, and the establishment of a local field station, operated by Oregon State University has led to an increase in investigation of kelp forest ecology and health. These investigations, developments, and observations have led to the establishment of the Oregon Kelp Alliance (ORKA). This proposal seeks to secure resources to support the development of a targeted bull kelp restoration plan that aims to apply an ecosystem-based approach to this complex problem along the southern Oregon coast. This plan may then be used to inform a variety of projects focused on kelp forest ecology in Oregon, and the potential for kelp forest restoration, where needed and feasible.

Who is ORKA?

Partners and co-sponsors

Oregon Sea Grant

Oregon Sea Grant is supporting the Oregon Kelp Alliance with a program development grant to promote coordination and development of pilot kelp restoration projects.

Oregon Sea Farms

Oregon's commercial urchin divers, dulse farm operators, launching urchin ranch operation in collaboration with ORKA.

The Nature Conservancy

PMEP-funded project to conduct kelp survey work in the study area to identify candidate areas for targeted bull kelp restoration.

South Coast Tours

Ecotour operations to include volunteer opportunities as part of potential restoration projects.

Port of Port Orford

Seafood Hub redevelopment project to includes redevelopment of seawater pump ashore system to support mariculture operations. Oregon Sea Farms and Oregon State University are potential tenants of new facility.

The Spout

Technology and media partner with a focus on sustainable eco-tourism and whale advocacy.

Oregon State University - Port Orford Field Station

Marine Studies, Food from the Sea, Aquaculture, and Blue Economy Initiatives all potentially intersect with project. Geospatial Ecology of Marine Megafauna (GEMM) Lab is analyzing bull kelp, sea urchin populations in areas of interest and/or potential candidate areas for targeted kelp restoration projects.

University of Oregon - Oregon Institute of Marine Biology

Kelp forest ecology research, support for kelp and urchin subtidal survey work.

Elakha Alliance

Currently exploring potential reintroduction of sea otters in Oregon, with interest in kelp forest health, and implications regarding sea urchin populations.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Shellfish Program

Natural resource management and permitting, monitoring and surveys of urchin and abalone populations.

Oregon Department of Land, Conservation, and Development (DLCD)

Managing revisions to Territorial Sea Plan section on Rocky Habitat, including submerged aquatic vegetation (kelp) policy, with restoration and mariculture opportunities.

Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Coordinating Council

Interest in monitoring ocean chemistry as part of potential restoration project.

The Plan

Members of the Oregon Kelp Alliance (ORKA) are working to develop a coordinated bull kelp restoration plan that includes monitoring and research of kelp forest ecosystems, ocean chemistry and other environmental variables, targeted removal and culturing of purple urchins, and citizen science, community engagement, and education opportunities. The plan is currently in development, with some elements entering implementation  in 2020-2021, as funds become available.

ORKA is currently working to draft a bull kelp recovery plan to be used to guide targeted kelp recovery efforts. We will strive to establish and maintain oases of kelp that could promote kelp forest restoration under more favorable conditions in the future. These pilot projects will also provide opportunities to enhance our understanding of kelp forest ecosystems and changes happening now and in the future.

If you have any comments or questions, please submit them below and we will respond as soon as we are able.

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The work of ORKA is supported in part by a grant from Oregon Sea Grant