Tasmanian Kelp Forests You Didn’t Know Existed Are Disappearing

Didn’t know there were kelp forests off of Tasmania? Apparently there are. And apparently they might not be there for long

These are the kelp forests of Tasmania. Didn’t know there were kelp forests off of Tasmania? The BBC says:

Giant kelp is the largest marine plant in the world, reaching up to 30m in height. It provides one of the most biologically productive marine habitats, and is home to a diverse number of endemic species, such as the weedy seadragon, the potbelly seahorse and the golden weedfish. Giant kelp forests used to stretch all along the east coast of Tasmania. Today, however, it’s disappearing catastrophically fast. In certain places only 5% of its original amount remains.

And they’re probably disappearing because the ocean is changing. Here’s BBC again:

One significant factor behind this dramatic decline appears to be climate change. Kelp is extremely sensitive to changes in water temperature. A 1.5ºC increase in the last decade means that temperatures are reaching the top end of the optimal range for kelp growth. Human pollution and an increased number of sea urchins (which feed on the giant kelp) are not helping either.

At Kelp Watch, they’re studying this decline. But it’s been hard to do, they say:

While specific kelp surveys have been conducted on the south-east and east coasts of Tasmania (eg. Cribb 1954, Olsen 1966, Sanderson 1987), almost nothing is known of the distribution of forests on the southern, northern and western coasts or the health or ecology of kelp forests generally. Unfortunately, the large-scale loss of Giant Kelp forests in Tasmania has also been exacerbated by the lack of any government policy or integrated research program to assess the status and management of these marine ecosystems in Tasmania.

Which means that without a change, those giant, beautiful Tasmanian kelp may never again surprise you with their existence.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Picture of the Week—Giant Kelp
A New View Into California’s Kelp Forests

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