Ocean warming is affecting this kelp and many other species who are really adapted to cold waters.

Professor Craig Johnson IMAS

In a world-first study, scientists have transplanted kelp off the coast of Tasmania to better understand the impact of climate change. The kelp, which grows from northern New South Wales around to Western Australia, provides an ecosystem for hundreds of marine species. Now it is thinning and becoming patchy because of warming waters. Divers in Tasmania have spent months on the island’s eastern sea floor transplanting 500 kelp plants.

Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) Professor Craig Johnson is one of a team of scientists conducting the research. He said the common kelp species was indispensable to the marine ecosystem. “This kelp is the dominant, canopy-forming species – what we call an ecosystem engineer – and it stretches from Western Australia right around southern Australia and up through to northern New South Wales,” he said. “It’s a key habitat-forming species.” “So it’s highly productive, and it provides habitat for many, many other species.” “We’re seeing ocean warming and that ocean warming is affecting this kelp and many other species who are really adapted to cold waters.” It is the first time a kelp transplant experiment of its size has been undertaken anywhere in the world. Professor Johnson said climate change is warming the ocean, which is killing the kelp. “Some of the kelp species are thinning out, and becoming increasingly patchy,” he said. “That’s certainly true of the kelp that we’re working on which is the most important and widespread in Australia.”

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Scientific understanding is always moving on.  This story links with Forests of the Sea – 2012 Lynchpin project. The title Forests of the Sea came from Charles Darwin’s observations and comments about the Giant Kelp forests he observed as he travelled around the globe.

I can only compare these great aquatic forests of the southern hemisphere with the terrestrial ones in the intertropical regions. Yet if in any country a forest was destroyed, I do not believe nearly so many species of animals would perish as would here, from the destruction of the kelp.

In The Voyage of the Beagle (1909) by Charles Darwin. pp. 244-245. Edited by Charles W. Eliot, Editor,The Harvard Classics , Vol. 29, 1909.  


The stop-motion team 2012: Marine Science PhD Candidates: Jorge Ramos, Mexico  and Felipe Briceño Jacques, Chile, with Dutch artist: Malou Zuidema.