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Ocean to Get Kelp From Its Friends

Environment: Coastal Commission OKs reforestation off Crystal Cove and Malibu to rebuild algae beds decimated by pollution, sea urchins and more.


Hoping to reforest Southern California's ocean floor, the California Coastal Commission on Tuesday approved plans to plant giant kelp off Crystal Cove State Park and Malibu.

The Coastal Commission unanimously approved the projects, which will be carried out by Orange CoastKeeper and Santa Monica BayKeeper.

"It's going to be a real enhancement and help get some kelp areas that we [historically] had along the coast rebuilt," said Shirley S. Dettloff, a commissioner and Huntington Beach councilwoman.

Ocean floors along the Southland used to be blanketed by tangled canopies of leafy green kelp. But aerial photographs reveal that more than 80% of historic kelp beds off Southern California shores have been lost, and the figure jumps to more than 90% in Orange County, said Nancy Caruso, CoastKeeper's marine biologist.

"It's a mixture of problems that have caused the demise of the kelp," she said, ticking off as contributing factors pollution, runoff, sediment, El Nino and a high population of sea urchins, which eat kelp.

"The combination of those things have really kept kelp from coming back to where it used to be."

Five groups, including the CoastKeeper and the BayKeeper, received a federal grant of nearly $1.5million to reforest the ocean floor. The Crystal Cove and Malibu projects are the first funded by the grant. The remainder will be off Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Diego counties.

The Orange County and Santa Monica Bay groups will grow baby kelp on tiny pieces of unglazed, unleaded bathroom tile. Once the kelp reaches five centimeters long, the tiles will be attached to rocky reefs with rubber bands. The kelp will grow up to two feet per day. In a year or so, after the kelp matures, divers will remove the tiles and rubber bands.

The project leaders are hoping that, at least in cleaner areas such as Crystal Cove, the kelp will be able to thrive. Right now, they said, there is not enough adult kelp offshore to generate baby kelp.

Caruso said the kelp will act as both a habitat and a food source for wildlife. Humans also will benefit; among other things, kelp is used to make processed cheese, instant noodles, chocolate syrup, dog food, ice cream, beer, cake frosting and Band-Aids, she said.

"Your frosting's really smooth and creamy because of algae," Caruso said.

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