A person in a snorkel holding kelp in a rock pool

Blog - How we're kelping to reduce CO2 emissions

How we're kelping to reduce CO2 emissions

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Kelp is a large brown algae usually found in shallow waters close to the shore, that inhabits almost a third of the world’s coastlines.

Like mangrove forests, kelp forests are underrated when it comes to supporting marine ecosystems and reducing CO2 emissions.

Kelp forests capture and cycle carbon contributing to the process by which the world's ocean and coastal ecosystems help to balance greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

As a certified B Corp, we’re on a mission to reduce our emissions and are supporting the expansion and protection of kelp forests in Devon, UK. Discover how they’re a secret weapon when it comes to removing CO2 from the atmosphere and why we need them to nurture and protect the coast.

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The benefits of kelp forests on the environment

One kelp can help to support 80,000 individual animals.

This astounding figure demonstrates just how fundamental kelp is to our ecosystems.

Alongside coral, mangrove, and seagrass habitats, which are acclaimed for their positive contributions to the environment, kelp forests also offer big ecological and socioeconomic benefits.

From providing spawning and nursing grounds for an array of wildlife to forming the base of complex food webs, kelp also acts as a natural defence system for the coast, protecting it from waves and storm surges.

One of its main (and many) benefits is also absorbing CO2, acting as a carbon conveyor. Globally, kelp forests and mangrove forests store the same amount of carbon due to the decaying matter sinking deep into the ocean.

A woman pulling kelp from a basket

Why kelp is under threat

In the UK and Ireland, seven different species of kelp span across 19,000km of the coast. They’re a vital part of the marine ecosystems and any damage or shifts in the structure of the forests could have significant consequences as they play a huge role in supporting local coastal communities and wildlife.

However, kelp forests are considered vulnerable in the UK and are listed as a threatened habitat by the OSPAR Commission - the organisation that unites 15 Governments & the EU to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic.

A cocktail of factors is the cause of their demise, including:

  • Ocean warming
  • Coastal pollution
  • Marine Heatwaves
  • Increase of storms
  • Overgrazing
  • Disease
  • Fishing activities
  • Non-native invasive species

How we’re supporting kelp restoration in the UK

Through the Devon Environment Foundation and the Marine Biological Association, we’re supporting a kelp restoration project based in Plymouth, UK, which is exploring new strategies to increase the survival of kelp.

The goal of the Devon Environment Foundation is to protect and restore at least 30% of Devon’s land and water by 2030 by supporting local projects that look after and regenerate nature on land and in the sea.

Scallops in a plastic box submerged in water

How does the project work?

There are seven different species of kelp found across the UK and Irish coastline. It’s a vital part of the marine ecosystem and any damage or shifts in the structure of the forests could have significant consequences as it plays a huge role in the foundation of the coastal communities and wildlife.

The project is based in two UK locations. Three are close to dryrobe® HQ in the South West of England and one in Teeside, North East England. It’s helping to develop restoration methods that will combat the kelp forest decline, thereby nurturing the biodiversity in the waters that everyone on the team here is passionate about.

Working towards improving the number of kelp forests in the area, the project will be implementing the ‘green gravel’ restoration technique, a technique launched by the Scientists at the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and Newcastle University, to protect four species of native kelp in the UK.

What is the process of the ‘green gravel’ restoration technique? The technique involves the following:

  1. Seeding multiple propagules of native kelp species onto various substrates, including scallop shells (a waste product of the seafood industry), small rocks, or line. These are then grown in a specialist culture room until the baby kelp are large enough to deploy at sea
  2. Out-planting the ‘gravel’ into various areas of Plymouth Sound, the UK’s first National Marine Park, once the kelp plants are large enough at 1cm long.
  3. Monitoring how the kelp survives and strategise how to increase the likelihood of its survival
Rocks in green buckets

Why the ‘green gravel’ restoration technique is effective

A huge benefit of the ‘green gravel’ technique is that it’s inexpensive and doesn’t require the use of expensive, labour-intensive teams of scuba divers, or engineered structures, to install the kelp. The gravel can be scattered from a boat where they sink and grow a ‘holdfast’ to attach themselves to the seabed, so can be up-scaled to treat large areas.

Green gravel also represents an exciting avenue to ‘future-proof’ restoration efforts. By seeding gravel with resilient species or assemblages, we may be able to enhance the resilience of kelp forests to future disturbance or climate change.

Previous to the UK, green gravel projects have been used in Norway, Portugal and Australia to combat kelp loss.

A woman pulling kelp out of a big tub

Project goals and numbers

At the heart of the project is refining the nursary, seeding, and transplanting methods for four native kelp species.

In total, the project aims to Restore 1.5 hectares of kelp beds across Plymouth Sound and Tees Coastal.

Alongside this, they will be testing the use of discarded scallop shells as the ‘gravel’ substrate and co-designing the project with the fishing and seafood industry to increase conservation outputs and reduce landfill waste from shellfish waste.

Within a year we will be revisiting the results of the kelp restoration project located in Devon, to find out:

  • How much habitat has been restored
  • Assess the increase of native species
  • Assess the decline of invasive species
  • Increase in management from local fisheries to support the project.

Stay tuned for the updates!

Find out more at devonenvironment.org

A woman stood next to boxes where there is kelp restoration

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Image copyright to The Marine Biological Association


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