Federal grant will help replant kelp along coast

A $220,000 federal grant announced Wednesday will help bankroll the

cost of replanting kelp forests along the Southern California coast,

including off Newport Beach.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded the

grant to the California Coastkeeper Alliance. The alliance

coordinates the activities of several groups that address issues of

water quality. Kelp reforestation off Newport Beach started in 2001.

Last year, the Orange County Coastkeeper, a water-quality

organization, planted kelp in waters near Crystal Cove and Laguna

Beach. However, the group pulled out of the Coastkeeper Alliance in

March, and Executive Director Garry Brown said while Orange County

Coastkeeper would monitor already-planted kelp forests, the group

would now concentrate on other issues such as urban runoff.

That opened the door for the Coastkeeper Alliance, which has

assumed control of kelp efforts in Orange County. On May 1 the group

hired marine biologist Nancy Caruso, who headed Orange County

Coastkeeper's kelp efforts until she and two of her co-workers were

laid off in March.

"I couldn't get out to check on them [the kelp] for a couple

months and I was worried, but they did fine," Caruso said.

On Monday, Caruso transplanted kelp from near Little Corona Beach

to waters off Laguna Beach, she said. She expects more kelp will be

moved south through the end of summer.

In December, the Coastkeeper Alliance received a $200,000 grant

from the California Coastal Conservancy to help put kelp back into

the ocean. Coastkeeper Alliance executive director Linda Sheehan said

the annual cost of the kelp project, which also includes educational

activities in schools, is about $475,000.

The kelp project was launched to help the brownish-green algae

return to prominence off beaches from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

Environmentalists believe pollution, El Nino weather patterns and sea

urchins have contributed to a decline in the local kelp population.

During reforestation, divers take kelp spores below the water's

surface and attach the spores to rocky reefs. Any nearby urchins are

taken away to prevent the invertebrates from munching on the algae

before it has a chance to grow.

Brown said he went by Little Corona beach Tuesday and could see

kelp planted in 2001 from the bluff above the shore.

"I was amazed," he said. "It's expanding under its own power."

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