Kelp Monitoring

Kelp beds are highly productive nearshore habitats that support commercial and sport fish, invertebrates, marine mammals and marine birds.  Many factors, both natural and anthropogenic, affect the extent and composition of kelp beds.  For example, elevated water temperature and intense sea urchin grazing can decimate kelp beds.  El Nino events stress kelp by producing several winter storms and reducing upwelling events, which normally replenish the nutrients in the water column.  Human influences on kelp beds include sewage and other runoff that decrease water quality and reduce light in the water column.  Human activity can also lead to changes in substrate size, which can either increase or decrease available kelp habitat.  Kelp plants can be physically damaged by boat propellers and fishing gear.  Commercial harvest is not a significant factor of concern in Washington State due to a law prohibiting this practice.
The Nearshore Habitat Program surveys and monitors kelp in Puget Sound and along the open coast.  The Nearshore Habitat Program also facilitates the Puget Sound Kelp Research and Monitoring Workgroup.  

Bull Kelp Monitoring in South Puget Sound

Major concerns exist about bull kelp declines in Puget Sound.  Recent research shows that bull kelp extent is limited in South Puget Sound, the southernmost inner basin in Puget Sound, and has decreased since 2013.

Long-Term Monitoring of Floating Kelp Along the Outer Coast and Strait of Juan de Fuca

The Nearshore Habitat Program has conducted annual aerial surveys of floating kelp canopy extent since 1989.  Two species of canopy-forming kelp are monitored:  Bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) and giant kelp (Macrocystic integrifolia).

Recent External Publications that include DNR kelp research and collaborations (most recent first)

Kelp Surveys Throughout Washington State

View nearshore vegetation data in an interactive map.
Find more inventory datasets for kelp and other nearshore habitats.

Historical Data Sources used in Kelp Research

Our research projects use some historical data sources that can be challenging to locate:
Phillips, R. 1962-1963.  Original field notes from shallow subtidal surveys by scuba and snorkel at sites in Puget Sound for Seattle Pacific College and University of Washington.  146 p.  Full Text Available (9105 KB PDF)
Thom, R.M. and L. Hallum.1990.  Long-term changes in the areal extent of tidal marshes, eelgrass meadows and kelp forests of Puget Sound.  University of Washington Wetland Ecosystem Team.  Final Report to US EPA Office of Puget Sound, Region 10.  FRI-UW-9008, EPA 910/9-91-005.  June, 1990.  Seattle, WA. 116 p. Full Text Available (2618 KB PDF)
West, J.E. 2019.  Personal communication regarding observations of Nereocystis luetkeana by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife during rockfish surveys in South Puget Sound during the 1992 field year.  Olympia, WA  . 1p.  Full Text Available.