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caption: Washington Department of Natural Resources ecologist Helen Berry holds up a frond of bull kelp near a kelp bed in Tacoma
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Washington Department of Natural Resources ecologist Helen Berry holds up a frond of bull kelp near a kelp bed in Tacoma
Credit: KUOW Photo / John Ryan

Kelp is on the way... out: Steep decline in key Puget Sound habitat

The underwater forests of Puget Sound are in trouble. Since 2013, researchers have seen drastic declines in kelp beds in south Puget Sound.

TRANSCRIPT:

I’m on a small boat above a kelp bed outside of Tacoma. This one, unlike many in south Puget Sound, is doing pretty well.

Helen Berry is a marine ecologist with the Department of Natural Resources.

Berry: "If you look down through the water column, it's amazingly clear. This is a classic bull kelp bed.”

Forests of bull kelp and 20 other species of kelp in Washington waters provide shelter for little fish and crabs. They also help protect shorelines from pounding waves. But the kelp beds Berry studies have declined drastically or just… disappeared.

Berry: “We’ve lost a lot of bull kelp.”

She says warm water is what has kelp in hot water.

"The temperature has been going above the threshold for physiological stress to kelp. So that's what we're seeing recently and that's a worldwide issue."

Kelp crabs cling to a stalk of bull kelp in south Puget Sound in 2014. Kelp beds have collapsed in south Puget Sound since 2013.

The Pacific Ocean heat wave known as the Blob coincided with the kelp collapse. The world’s continuing carbon emissions mean we can expect more ocean heat waves in the years ahead.

Reporting from Puget Sound, John Ryan, KUOW News