Letter to the Editor — Kelp Forests’ Main Enemies Just Might Be Environmentalists
Byline: Al Johnson
The Log’s May 24-June 6 issue contained articles on the kelp forest research program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), as well as the recent federal government decision to allow sea otters south of Point Conception.
It is noted that the article on the kelp forest research listed several state universities being funded by NSF. However, neither Cal Tech nor Scripps Institute of Oceanography was included in this research team.
Dr. Wheeler North, with joint appointments to Cal Tech and Scripps — the original principal researcher in this field — funded by kelp harvesting companies (free enterprise, not government entitlement) documented the ecology of the kelp forests, which provide the basis for most of the subsequent research.
Dr. North noted that the sea urchin was the principal animal responsible for the depletion of the kelp forests. They ate the “hold fast.”
He attempted to remove the sea urchins by diving on then, hitting them with a hammer, and applying quick lime — a labor intensive process, and not an economically viable one.
Free enterprise solved the problem, when commercial abalone divers discovered that there was an large market for sea urchin roe. Once again, the “invisible hand” solved an economic problem: Commercial divers who had been unemployed due to the depletion of the abalone colonies found a new source of income, and the kelp beds flourished.
Mankind is the principal predator of the sea urchin — followed by the squid, the wolf eel and (lastly) the sea otter.
Healthy kelp beds can be harvested to provide a biomass feed stock for several food and chemical uses. The state can derive income from licensing kelp harvesting and commercial sea urchin harvesting.
And now, on to the possible “unintended consequence” of the sea otter release in Southern California. The sea otter is listed as a “threatened” and “depleted” species. The environmentalists can use these designations to eliminate the possibility of developing a kelp harvesting and a sea urchin harvesting industry. And they will, regardless of the merits of the issue.
Consider how they destroyed the timber industry in the regions adjacent to the California-Oregon border by claiming that the old forests were required for the survival of the threatened spotted owl. However, the real problem was the environmental niche conflict with the barred owl. Despite this, the timber jacks remain unemployed.
Deer Harbor, WA