Chiix̱uu Tll iinasdll: Nurturing Seafood to Grow
Restoring the Kelp Forests of Gwaii Haanas
Just as the forests of Gwaii Haanas are important places for many species and the people of Haida Gwaii, so are the underwater kelp forests.
A huge benefit to the coastal communities and ecosystems, kelp forests act as nurseries, habitat and abundant feeding grounds for species of fish and seafood that people eat. Kelp forests are also home to many species protected under Canada’s Species at Risk laws. The fast growth of kelp helps coastal, marine and even offshore ecosystems by forming natural breakwaters, acting as the ocean’s cafeteria for everything from tiny shrimp to fish to large marine mammals. Kelp forests also help prevent our shorelines from eroding.
Unfortunately, many of the underwater kelp forests of Gwaii Haanas are out of balance and have shrunk considerably. Nearly 200 years ago, kuu (sea otters) disappeared from Gwaii Haanas as a result of the maritime fur trade, and coastal ocean ecosystems in the area have experienced a cascade of change ever since. The reason is that sea otter are keystone predators – voracious consumers of marine invertebrates like sea urchin, crab and abalone. Without otters keeping populations in check, spiny sea urchin numbers grew and grew, and the cascade began. Urchins in turn began to graze down the rich kelp forests on which species like the endangered northern abalone and many rockfishes (yelloweye, bocaccio, canary, quillback) depend.
Kelp forests declined in quantity and quality, which in turn created what are called urchin barrens. Urchin barrens are long expanses of ocean floor with many, many urchin and very little or no kelp. In some places the seafloor is now barren, reminiscent of a clear-cut forest, and no longer able to support a diverse marine ecosystem.
In summer 2017, the Haida Nation, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Pacific Urchin Harvesters Association, Florida State University, and University of British Columbia collaborated to study and plan for restoration of a small section of kelp forest in Gwaii Haanas.
This year, using traditional knowledge and scientific information a team of Haida, federal government, industry and academic partners will transform urchin barrens to kelp forests, improving habitat for abalone and rockfish as they implement Gwaii Haanas’ newest ecosystem restoration project: Chiixuu Tll iinasdll: Nurturing Seafood to Grow. The project team will help kelp forests by removing at least 75% of the sea urchins along three kilometres of the Gaysiigas Gwaay (Murchison Island) coastline in September 2018. Ongoing urchin control and kelp forest research and recovery monitoring in the area will continue for at least three years afterwards (2019-2021).
Restoring kelp forests will benefit many marine species and the people who rely on them. Research and monitoring of Chiixuu Tll iinasdll results will help us understand exactly how kelp restoration benefits abalone, juvenile herring and many species of rockfish and how we can best conserve and restore kelp forests in the future.
The importance of kelp forests
Kelp forests are important coastal ecosystems that are critical habitat for abalone, rockfish, juvenile herring and juvenile salmon, among many species. Today, kelp forests are fewer and smaller than they once were. Sea urchins have grazed down the once vast underwater forests of kelp. In many parts of Gwaii Haanas the ocean floor is covered with urchins and little else. These areas are called “urchin barrens”.
Sea urchins are a native species to the Gwaii Haanas ocean environment but they are so numerous they are considered “hyperabundant”. Historically, sea urchin numbers were kept in balance by sea otters who ate them. When they are smaller other species such as rockfish, wolf eels and sunflower stars can also eat sea urchin. Sea otters were hunted to local extinction on Haida Gwaii and throughout B.C. nearly two centuries ago, allowing urchin populations to grow unchecked.
Kelp dependent species including abalone, rockfish, herring and salmon are culturally important to the Haida. Kelp dependent species are also important to local and regional economies. Northern abalone is endangered and several species of rockfish are threatened or of special concern.
Partnership is key to success of any larger-scale ecosystem restoration project. The Haida Nation, Canada and Pacific Urchin Harvesters Association, are proud to work together to enhance kelp forest and rocky reef ecosystems. These partners will work alongside Florida State University and the University of British Columbia to deliver on shared conservation goals.
To learn more about this project please contact Nadine Wilson or Lynn Lee at 250-559-8818 or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.