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Puget Sound Kelp Conservation and Recovery Plan

The Northwest Straits Initiative along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), and several marine conservation non-profits are working together to draft a Puget Sound Kelp Conservation and Recovery Plan. Please review the additional resources below to learn about what we have prepared so far!

kelp problem statement

Kelp is an important marine foundation species - the 24 species found in Puget Sound form extensive biogenic structure that provide critical habitat for several fish species that are listed as Species of Concern by Washington State and Endangered or Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Kelp provides habitat for forage fish along with numerous important ecosystem services. Kelp provides large amounts of food web support for not only nearshore, but also deep water benthic and terrestrial ecosystems.

Long-term declines in the canopy cover of bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) have been observed in the Puget Sound region despite the lack of systematic surveys. Trends within the larger Salish Sea are not conclusive, nor are canopy abundances declining everywhere, but many historic areas of floating canopy presence in Puget Sound – especially the central and south basins – are thought to be either completely absent or reduced to vestiges of historic abundances. The consequences of declines of bull kelp in Puget Sound are not limited to the direct effects on kelp populations, but influence indirectly the many species that depend on the presence of these forests.

Identification of the factors driving bull kelp decline, and the relative magnitude of the decline, have thus far remained elusive while at the same time additional monitoring, conservation and restoration efforts are needed. In addition, there are another 23 species of understory and mid-story kelp in Puget Sound that also provide important habitat and ecosystem services, yet the precise functions, trends and distributions of these species are poorly understood.

The precautionary approach implements conservation measures even in the absence of scientific certainty. Though trend and distribution data is sparse for most kelp species in Puget Sound, a precautionary approach that improves monitoring, conservation, and restoration actions (particularly for bull kelp) is warranted. Restoration activities in other regions (e.g. Southern California) have shown adaptive management can lead to improved habitat function. Given the observed loss of this valuable nearshore habitat there are benefits from further research and management a precautionary approach is warranted.

Click here to view a Kelp Management Framework Diagram.