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.
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.
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.
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