Kelp Forests

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    27th Jun, 2019

Underwater Arctic Forests (Kelps) are expanding according to a research by Canadian Marine Ecology, Universite Laval published in Global Change Biology.

Context

Underwater Arctic Forests (Kelps) are expanding according to a research by Canadian Marine Ecology, Universite Laval published in Global Change Biology.

About

More on news

  • The research uncovers the distribution of Arctic kelp forests and explores how these important ecosystems are changing with the climate.
  • Warming waters and retreating of sea ice will benefit marine plants. Researchers predict a northern shift of kelp forests as ice retreats.

Kelp Forests

  • Kelp forests are underwater forests that thrive well in cold, nutrient rich waters.
  • Kelps are large brown algae seaweeds attached to the seafloor and eventually grow to the water’s surface and rely on sunlight to generate food and energy.
  • These forests are always coastal and require shallow, relatively clear water.
  • These forests harbor a greater variety and higher diversity of plants and animals than almost any other ocean community.

Distribution

  • Kelp forests have been observed throughout the Arctic by Inuit, researchers and polar explorers. The Canadian Arctic alone represents 10 per cent of the world’s coastlines.
  • Kelps have adapted to the severe conditions. These cool water species have special strategies to survive freezing temperatures and long periods of darkness, and even grow under sea ice.
  • In regions with cold, nutrient-rich water, they can attain some of the highest rates of primary production of any natural ecosystem on Earth.
  • In Hudson Bay and eastern Canada, kelp forests have been scientifically documented between Ellesmere Island and Labrador, and along coasts in Lancaster Sound, Ungava Bay, Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay and Resolute Bay.

Function

  • Kelps function underwater in the same way trees do on land. They create habitat and modify the physical environment by shading light and softening waves.
  • These forests provide important three-dimensional, underwater habitat that is home to hundreds or thousands of species of invertebrates, fishes, and other algae.
  • These forests comprise one of the ocean’s most diverse ecosystems. Many fish species use kelp forests as nurseries for their young, while seabirds and marine mammals like sea lions, sea otters and even gray whales use them as shelter from predators and storms.

Threat

  • Thawing permafrost and crumbling Arctic coasts are dumping sediments into coastal waters at alarming rates, which blocks light and could limit plant growth.
  • The run-off from melting glaciers will also lowers salinity and increase turbidity, which impacts young kelp.
  • Destructive fishing practices, coastal pollution, and accidental damage caused by boat entanglement are known to negatively affect kelp forests.
  • Sea urchins can destroy entire kelp forests at a rate of 30 feet (9 m) per month by moving in herds. Sea otters play a key role in stabilizing sea urchin populations so that kelp forests may thrive

Significance

  • Kelp forests throughout the world play an important role in coastal economies, supporting a broad range of tourism, recreational and commercial activities.
  • Kelp is used as food by the North Americans, and the kelp aquaculture industry is growing at a rate of seven per cent per year for the last 20 years globally (kelp is a coveted food source in many countries, full of potassium, iron, calcium, fiber and iodine).
  • In the Arctic, Inuit traditionally use kelp as food and wild harvest numerous species.

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