California's kelp forests are disappearing from the north coast. These formerly lush, dense jungles of sea weed provided shelter, food, and in many cases home, for many, many marine creatures. Without this important resource the ecosystem is in big trouble.
The unprecedented collapse has been observed along hundreds of miles of coastline from San Francisco to Oregon. The region's once-lush stands of bull kelp, a large brown alga that provides food and habitat for a host of wildlife species, have been devoured by small, voracious purple urchins. In the most-affected areas, denuded kelp stalks are almost all that remains of plant life.
Scientists have described the landscape left behind as an "urchin barren." Other factors, including warmer water, also are to blame, they say.
"It's no longer a kelp forest," said Cynthia Catton, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, stationed in Bodega Bay.
Laura Rogers-Bennett, another Bodega Bay scientist, said it is as if whole terrestrial forests were disappearing, only in this case they are underwater and out of sight.