North Coast Kelp Forest Restoration Project Showing Early Evidence of Success

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Mike Esgro, 818-917-6468

FORT BRAGG, Calif. — One month since its launch, an unprecedented partnership for kelp restoration on California’s North Coast is demonstrating early evidence of success.

In early August, a team of 13 commercial red sea urchin divers began removing kelp-eating purple urchins in support of kelp restoration at Noyo Bay in Mendocino County. Since then, divers have cleared approximately six acres of reef, landing a total of 21,276 pounds of purple urchin (more than 100,000 individuals). Scientific monitoring by Reef Check California, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving California’s rocky reefs and kelp forests through citizen and community science, has documented new growth kelp at Noyo Bay.

“Although COVID-19 delayed the start of this project, we had great ocean conditions throughout August, allowing commercial divers to complete their first pass through most of the restoration site,” said Tristin McHugh, Reef Check California’s North Coast Regional Manager. “The presence of juvenile kelp is a great indicator that we are undertaking this effort at exactly the right time – fall is typically when spores begin to release from reproductive adult kelps. Now the question is: what does it take to maintain and facilitate this new kelp growth?”

This highly collaborative project, co-managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and supported by Ocean Protection Council funds, is intended to improve the state’s scientific understanding of restoration techniques that may provide relief to coastal ecosystems and economies recently devastated by climate-driven kelp collapse. Scientists have attributed that collapse to a “perfect storm” of changing ocean conditions, including persistent marine heat waves, disease and die offs of sea stars, and an explosion in purple sea urchin populations.

“We’re excited to see that commercial urchin divers can work so effectively as a team to remove purple urchin at the level we’re seeing,” said Michael Esgro, OPC’s Marine Ecosystems Program Manager. “And it’s absolutely thrilling to see kelp growing in an environment that, up until a few weeks ago, was beyond hostile.”


Photo credit: Tristin McHugh/Reef Check California
Photo credit: Tristin McHugh/Reef Check California


Photo: Tristin McHugh/Reef Check California


Photo: Tristin McHugh/Reef Check California


Photo: Mike Esgro/Ocean Protection Council

About the California Ocean Protection Council:

The Ocean Protection Council is a state agency whose mission is to ensure that California maintains healthy, resilient, and productive ocean and coastal ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations. The Council was created pursuant to the California Ocean Protection Act. For more information, and for a link to OPC’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan to Protect California’s Coast and Ocean, visit