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2040 goal to restore 1M hectares of vital kelp forests

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

Bull kelp (Durvillaea) forest, Tasmania. Photo: Cayne Layton

The international Kelp Forest Challenge aims to reverse drastic declines in the world's kelp forests, restore ocean biodiversity and support livelihoods.

In some parts of the world, up to 95 per cent of kelp forests have already been lost, including in Tasmania, where giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) has largely disappeared from the state’s east coast.

In February 2023 the Kelp Forest Alliance launched its Kelp Forest Challenge. It sets ambitious targets designed to both raise awareness of the importance of kelp forests and to address their decline.

It has set an interim target for 2030 to restore 200,000 hectares and protect one million hectares globally by 2030. This will build towards the 2040 target of one million hectares restored and three million hectares protected, as increased awareness and improvements in restoration knowledge and skills accelerate efforts.

The founder and program director of the Kelp Forest Alliance, Dr Aaron Eger, says kelp forests line up to one-third of the world’s coastlines. But these important and highly productive habitats have been largely ignored in conservation targets and funding programs.

There are no international conservation agreements recognising kelp forests, despite their essential role in supporting marine ecosystems and fisheries, and the millions of people who rely on these for their livelihoods.

On average, 100 square metres of kelp forest provides 1700 kilograms of fishery-related biomass each year.

“Terrestrial forests and coral reefs have often been the focus of much-needed protection and restoration in recent years, but kelp forests are just as vital and are disappearing by the minute,” says Dr Eger, who is a marine researcher at the University of New South Wales.

He highlights climate change and pollution as key threats that have brought some kelp forests to the brink of extinction.

The alliance has spent the best part of a year consulting with experts and those living and working in kelp ecosystems around the globe to set targets for the challenge and to establish guidelines for the restoration and protection efforts that will count towards the challenge totals.

Founding commitments

At the time of the launch in February, the challenge had already attracted 20 commitments from eight countries, including a 30,000ha restoration project in South Korea. South Korea’s kelp forest restoration program is the largest in the world and has already restored more than 10,000ha over the past decade, at a cost of US$300 million. Its pledge to the challenge is for additional areas to be restored.

Dr Eger says the Korean program represents the scale of work actually needed; many past projects have focused on areas of only a few hectares or so. Restoration efforts will need to scale-up rapidly to achieve meaningful impacts and reach the challenge targets.

Commitments from Australia include:

  • Victoria’s Eastern Zone Abalone Industry Association will restore 105ha by 2030.

  • The Nature Conservancy will restore a combined total of 100ha at sites in Tasmania and in Port Philip Bay, Victoria, by 2030.

  • In New South Wales, Operation Crayweed is pledging to re-establish crayweed (Phyllospora comosa) along 70 kilometres of the Sydney coastline.

  • Sydney-based musician Cliona Molins will write a song about golden kelp and tour Australia performing on her harp to raise awareness of kelp forests.

  • Technology company Hullbot in Sydney has committed to loan its technology to assist with the culling of sea urchins, which are contributing to kelp forest decline, and to work on monitoring the outcome as well as working collaboratively with restoration efforts to address the technical challenges of monitoring.

  • Go Dive in Hobart, Tasmania, will provide equipment support for restoration activities.

Community support for the challenge is welcome, including contributing skills to help raise awareness of the challenge, funding, equipment and in-kind donations to support restoration and protection efforts.

“We have media and marketing companies working to help promote kelp forests, dive companies loaning the needed equipment and aquaculture groups helping produce seed stock,” says Dr Eger. "Any positive contribution towards kelp forest conservation projects can count."

The Kelp Forest Alliance estimates that restoring 1 million hectares of lost kelp forest will cost US$40 billion but will produce tens of billions of dollars each year through a coastal restoration industry comprised of fisheries, blue carbon and tourism.

International support

The Kelp Forest Alliance is a UNSW-supported, research-driven not-for-profit founded by Dr Eger that brings together 450 kelp forest experts from 25 countries to accelerate the protection and restoration of kelp forests worldwide.

The challenge targets were developed based on the best available information on the known distribution of kelp, past declines, the costs of restoration, and available technical capacity for restoration.

Alliance director and marine ecologist at UNSW Professor Adriana Vergés says land-based restoration projects have powerful high-level initiatives such as the Bonn Challenge to restore deforested landscapes. “The Kelp Forest Challenge represents an equivalent ambitious target to protect and revitalise our underwater forests,” Professor Vergés explains.

It also aligns with other global initiatives underway to protect and restore ecosystems such as the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration and the newly announced Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to protect and restore ecosystems.

The potential for kelp to sequester carbon dioxide means that it could also contribute to commitments under the Paris Agreement, making a positive contribution towards halting climate change.

For more information visit: Kelp Forest Alliance

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