Researchers Get Major Grant to Study Kelp Beds

Byline: Ambrosia Brody

Researchers Get Major Grant to Study Kelp Beds

SANTA BARBARA — Two research groups at University of California, Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute have been awarded major grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund long-term research on the ecology of kelp forests and coral reefs.

Boaters and divers familiar with the Santa Barbara coast may have witnessed the abundance of sea creatures that make their homes in kelp beds. Researchers with Santa Barbara Coastal Long-Term Ecological Research (SBC LTER) are helping to ensure the forests continue to thrive.

“What our project is trying to do is better understand how kelp forests change naturally, so that when unnatural or man-made disturbances occur, we can predict what those changes are and prevent future ones from occurring,” said Dan Reed, SBC LTER’s principal investigator. “It is so very good for managing fisheries and managing resources like kelp forests,” he said.             According to SBC LTER, giant kelp forests represent one of the most productive ecosystems in the world.

The grants issued by the NSF support SBC LTER and the Moorea Coral Reef Long-Term Ecological Research (MCR LTER) programs. Each team works to collect and analyze data that inform ongoing research and future management decisions.             “This grant is everything,” Reed said. “Everything we do comes out of our grant money, so this will allow us to continue to do research.”

SBC LTER researchers will continue to examine how changes — such as ocean acidification, global warming and human activities — affect kelp forests located off the Santa Barbara coast.

At least three times a week, two to four researchers in Reed’s group cruise to the kelp bed on 22-foot Radon powerboats to conduct research. The six-year grant will allow the 13-year LTER to continue building on its data.

The grant provides the teams $960,000 per year to finance salaries for researchers and interns working at the university’s affiliated ecological research sites. Each of the 25 NSF-funded sites in the U.S. LTER network narrows in on a specific aquatic ecosystem. Two are led by University of California, Santa Barbara scientists.

The MCR LTER group focuses on coral reef ecosystems. MCR LTER is a partnership of the University of California, Santa Barbara; California State University, Berkeley; and California State University, Northridge; with marine scientists from University of California campuses in Davis, Santa Cruz and San Diego. Researchers from Duke University and the University of Hawaii are also involved in the ongoing research project.

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