A New Project Maps the Pacific Coast’s Critical Kelp Forests

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The whole of British Columbia is an ambitious project to map and monitor sea kel forests along the coast, and scientists are using both ancient and modern tools.

Researchers are using age-old British marine charts and advanced technology, such as camera drones and satellite images, to detect changes in abundance and distribution of kel beds over time, geographer Mysira Costa said.

Like the rainforests, BC’s canopy-forming kelp beds are important and widespread ecosystems that host marine life and include juvenile salmon and marine mammals such as seals and otters, Costa said. “We are trying to understand how these areas are changing,” he said, adding climate change in particular is a big concern, “and what we can do to mitigate those changes because they Are such an important habitat. “

There is a lack of overall data around the Costa beds, Costa said Spectral Lab at Victoria University, Which specializes in using remote sensory imagery to monitor changes in marine environments. Costa said that BC Few individual kelp beds have been studied, but not widely over time, but leaving a poor understanding of what is happening to the marine ecosystem with such a massive algae population. “It’s one thing to look at kelp beds for just one year, but the important part is looking at many years of data,” Costa said, noting that the growth or loss of kelp beds is quite dynamic in the short run Can.

He said that establishing a comprehensive picture of where and why kelp is declining or growing is important for determining management or conservation policy and even the commercial harvest of these marine forests.

Future mapping of kelp with old marine charts

But, curiously, Costa’s high-tech research team relied on ancient marine maps for the job, to establish a baseline measurement of kelp on the coast. Using information from the British Admiralty Chart from 1858 to 1956, the team created the first historical digital map of BC’s coastal kelp beds.

Costa noted that large kelp beds were carefully observed on the British chart, taking into account naval threats, which became an unusual but valuable source of information about coastal habitat in the 19th century. After ensuring the scale and quality of the data, a total of 137 charts were scanned with coordinates and kelp beds included on the digital map, According to study.

Chart data show that most of the concentrated kelp beds are around the north and west coasts of Vancouver Island, in the Johnstone Strait, and in the northern waters and northwestern Haida Gawai.

Huge amount of satellite images

Costa said the next step in mapping the distribution of kelp along the coast over time is to compile satellite data from 2005 to the present, as well as scientific and government data available from kelp inventions from the 1970s to the 1990s. “You won’t believe the amount of data we have [to analyze], “He said.” For the BC coast, we have about 6,000 satellite images. The duration of spending processing data, it’s almost real. “

The project is overseeing both Bull and Vishal Kelp with the help of the Hakai Institute and has been awarded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Pacific Salmon Foundation, Costa.

A full kelp map for the Salish Sea, which stretches along the route inside Vancouver Island, is expected to be completed by mid-2021, he said, adding maps of the central and northern coasts of BC will be added.