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Kelp Protection and Recovery


The large brown algae commonly known as ‘kelp’ provide habitat to a variety of species in Puget Sound, and are considered critical habitat warranting protection. Kelp, like eelgrass, provides food, shade, and other valuable ecosystem services.

Conspicuous declines in the abundance of bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana), the most common canopy-forming species in Puget Sound, have been observed in many areas. The cause is likely a number of factors, including stormwater impacts, sedimentation, and competitive interactions. Little information on abundance, or changes over time, is available in the Northwest Straits region. And much remains unknown about the understory kelp species.


The Commission launched a regional survey of bull kelp (Nereocystis) beds using a kayak-based survey protocol developed in 2014. Six MRCs recruited volunteers and piloted this project, and the Commission compiled the data and created a regional kelp database. A volunteer pilot photographed project sites in four counties, providing baseline aerial data on the extent of kelp. Click here to watch a short video on the kayak-based survey project. 

Emily Bishop testing kelp protocol

In December 2015, the Commission convened a workshop to identify changes needed to finalize the protocol for future surveys. The protocol was also added to the PSEMP Nearshore Monitoring Toolbox. As the dataset becomes more robust, it will serve to improve our understanding of kelp abundance in the Northwest Straits region.

Our science advisory committee and partners from natural resource agencies are instrumental in the success of this project.


SSIKA logoRecognizing the multitude of kelp monitoring and restoration efforts on the West Coast, the Commission has established the Salish Sea International Kelp Alliance. 

The group is one way to coalesce momentum among people involved in protecting and restoring kelp on both sides of the US-Canada border. In partnership with interested MRCs, we aim to:

  • Monitor changes in local kelp populations
  • Foster awareness about the ecological and cultural importance of kelp
  • Promote citizen science contributions to regional research
  • Provide a forum for exchanging relevant information and idea

Charter members are the Puget Sound Restoration Fund; Helen Berry, WA Dept. of Natural Resources; Help the Kelp; Mayne Island Conservancy Society; and Tom Mumford, Marine Agronomics, Northwest Straits Foundation.