The Oregon Kelp Alliance (ORKA) represents diverse interests in kelp forest ecosystems, and includes commercial urchin divers, researchers, managers, conservationists, tribal members, 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, tribal members, 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 previously robust kelp forests to unproductive large scale urchin barrens in northern California, an ecoregion bearing many similarities to that found on the southern 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.
Port Orford has been Oregon’s sea urchin capital since the initiation of the fishery here in the early 1990’s. In recent years, career urchin divers brought attention to the purple sea urchin population boom and bull kelp forest declines. Urchin divers 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 the Port Orford Field Station, operated by Oregon State University, has led to an increase in investigation of kelp forest ecology and health, particularly along Oregon’s southern coast. These investigations, developments, and observations led to the establishment of the Oregon Kelp Alliance (ORKA). With support from Oregon Sea Grant, ORKA has continued to develop and support collaborative projects to enhance our understanding of kelp forest changes and experimental kelp forest regeneration. ORKA recently received a permit from ODFW to launch an experimental kelp restoration project at 5 sites from Cape Lookout to the North, to Macklyn Cove in Brookings to the South. This project will cull sea urchins to promote kelp restoration, and includes surveys and monitoring in partnership with Reef Check Oregon. The Oregon Kelp Alliance is also exploring other approaches to promoting kelp forest health in coordination with other groups engaged in similar work along the west coast, and around the world. Sign up for our mailing list to receive updates and follow us on social media.
Members and partners of the Oregon Kelp Alliance (ORKA) are now working on an experimental kelp restoration project, under a scientific take permit developed in collaboration with shellfish biologists from ODFW, which recently issued the permit. This experimental project aims to reduce sea urchin densities in 5 experimental areas enough to promote kelp regeneration. The project includes baseline surveys to determine sea urchin and kelp abundance and density, and will also measure red and flat abalone and sunflower sea stars, other important members of the kelp forest ecosystem. This project is part of a comprehensive strategy to promote kelp forest health, including monitoring and research of kelp forest ecosystems, ocean chemistry and other environmental variables, targeted removal and culturing of purple urchins, community science, tribal engagement, and education opportunities.
ORKA is currently planning a kick-off event in Port Orford, at Nellie’s Cove, located at Orford Heads, one of the experimental study sites. 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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