Kelp restoration shows promise of new ideas

To the negative impact on the environment we have witnessed for the last 90 days, as a result of the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico, a note of hope: the Southern California Giant Kelp Restoration Project.

This project was launched in 2001 to reestablish historic kelp beds along the Southern California coast. The giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) is a type of brown algae that grows on rocky reefs in ocean waters usually less than 80 feet deep, that by using sunlight and ocean nutrients forms a dense canopy resembling an underwater forest.

Why is this important? Because about 800 species of marine organisms depend on the kelp at some point in their life history. The deep ocean damaged today is also the home of organisms whose productivity is based on chemosynthesis, process by which most plants in the sea convert sunlight into useable biological energy. Many systems have been discovered in recent years, and the vast majority remain to be discovered. Providing humanity with food, economic benefits and recreation, living marine resources represent an important resource for current and future generations. These resources range from the tremendously productive phytoplankton, which help maintain atmospheric gas balances, sequester carbon, and form the base of many marine food chains, to corals, which build reefs that protect coastlines and create the most diverse ecosystems.

About three-fourths of our planet is covered by oceans, and the impact this has on Earth's biosphere is an amazing ecosystem that can sustain human life. In fact, for many people our oceans are the only possible source to feed a growing population, definitely a reason to work on a strategy for the preservation of Earth's biodiversity to avoid the destruction of the very species that sustain life.

Instead, as seen in the near past, human activities separate us from the oceans. The oil spill and pollution is damaging our oceans. The blowout from the oil rig raises a concern about offshore drilling, but even more concern about the marine resources lost.

In many ways everything is connected. As David Suzuki once noted: "Together all species make up one immense web of interconnections that binds all beings to each other and to the physical components of the planet. The disappearance of a species tears the web a little, but the web is highly elastic. When one strand is rent the whole network changes configurations, but so long as many remaining strands hold it together, it retains its integrity." Despite the fact that it may be natural at some point, this counterbalance cannot be ignored because growth in a finite system can never be infinite.

Marine resource management is full of uncertainty. The greater the uncertainty the more conservative the management must be in reducing this factor.

In the gulf today, coastal marshes have been destroyed or are at risk, and chemical pollutants are daily entering the ocean to further degrade a diminished ecosystem. Some oil is carried miles away along the Atlantic coast. All this contamination is causing physical harm to ocean organisms and their habitat, to fisheries and animals.

Not long ago the giant kelp that once grew thickly along our coast was reduced by nearly 80%, due to natural disturbances but also human-caused pollution. During its first six years, the Kelp Project restored 18,500 square meters of kelp in Southern California, which is now paying dividends in healthier resources.

Looming on the horizon are new threats caused by ozone depletion and human-induced climate change, and oil spills with negative impacts to the whole ecosystem. We can only hope for the ocean to recover its essential "blue." We need to provide solutions that are good for all species for all times. As Jason McLennan writes in "The Philosophy of Sustainable Design": "We have a responsibility, as caretakers or stewards of the Earth to craft our societies and the technologies in it, in ways that allow for the continued survival of our species and those we share it with, regardless of their perceived value to us."

We have to decide what kind of world we want to leave to future generations. What's your choice?

GUSTAVO GRAD is a Laguna Beach resident and certified sustainable building advisor. He can be reached at ggrad@cox.net.

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