Drone images give hope for return of kelp on U.S. West coast By Reuters
© Reuters. Saunders Reef, California, U.S.A, September 21st, 2021, shows a kelp forest. This picture was taken by a drone September 21st, 2021. REUTERS/Nathan Frandino
By Nathan Frandino
GUALALA, Calif. (Reuters) – Tranquil images of the Pacific Ocean taken by a drone show that California’s kelp forests may be making a comeback after years of depletion, bringing good news in the fight against climate change.
Kelp helps reduce global warming through its ability to absorb carbon dioxide via photosynthesis. However, a study has shown that the kelp forests have been drastically reduced along Northern California’s Coast. A number of studies show that there is an increase in sea temperature and diseases, leading to a more than 95% drop since 2013.
However, a Nature Conservancy team has seen signs of some recovery during drone survey off Mendocino and Sonoma County’s kelp forest.
Vienna Saccomanno is Nature Conservancy’s director of kelp monitoring, mapping and research. In 2019, the group tried their first attempt to map kelp forest using drones. However, it was difficult to find anything, she said. A surge in sea urchins (which eat kelp) added to the chaos.
There was literally no kelp. It was thrilling to witness the strong rise in kelp, being out there in 2021,” she stated.
Drones hover 400 feet (12 m) high, but are close enough to the beach to take photos. These images can then be woven together into a mosaic-like picture to gain a deeper understanding of kelp forests. Saccomanno says scientists have seen more brown seaweed in recent years. This is due to cooler, nutrient-rich water that helps kelp thrive.
According to the Nature Conservancy’s drone survey, the average size for kelp canopy in 2019 was 1 acre. By 2020 it had grown up to 5 acres. For this year, the numbers have not been released.
However, Kelp canopy levels are below their historical average.
Saccomanno explained that the ecosystem was not in its full balance yet and still needs to be restored.
Kirk Klausmeyer is the director of data science at Nature Conservancy’s California Chapter. He said that drone technology was vital in providing information about the health of the Kelp.
We need as many data points as we can to solve problems such as these. Drones can provide us with high-resolution photographs of individual kelp plant kelp trees, he explained.
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