Cit­i­zen scientists help save kelp

Mercury (Hobart) - - NEWS - HE­LEN KEMPTON

SCIENTISTS work­ing to re­store Tas­ma­nia’s dis­ap­pear­ing gi­ant kelp forests are en­list­ing the help of recre­ational fish­ers and oth­ers who use the wa­ter­ways to log sight­ings of rem­nant gi­ant kelp via a new phone app.

Gi­ant kelp forests once dom­i­nated the state’s East Coast, but 95 per cent has been lost over the past decades due to ocean warm­ing, ur­ban­i­sa­tion and pol­lu­tion.

Now a Ho­bart-based com­pany has de­vel­oped the free Kelp Tracker app, in part­ner­ship with scientists from the In­sti­tute for Marine and Antarc­tic Stud­ies, OzFish Un­lim­ited and the Tas­ma­nian As­so­ci­a­tion for Recre­ational Fish­ing, with sup­port from BCF Boat­ing Camp­ing and Fish­ing and The Cli­mate Foun­da­tion.

The app al­lows those who see gi­ant kelp to eas­ily and quickly re­port when and where it is spot­ted. The sight­ings will then be ver­i­fied by IMAS kelp scientists.

The cit­i­zen sci­ence data will help cre­ate a map of the re­main­ing un­der­wa­ter forests — and help researcher­s iden­tify rem­nant patches that may be bet­ter adapted to warmer sea tem­per­a­tures.

Pro­fes­sor Craig John­son, who co-leads the pro­ject, said the de­cline of Tas­ma­nia’s gi­ant kelp forests was as­so­ci­ated with warm and nu­tri­ent-poor wa­ters brought to Tas­ma­nia’s East Coast by the East Aus­tralian Cur­rent. “Gi­ant kelp cre­ate com­plex habi­tats that sup­port nu­mer­ous species of eco­nomic and con­ser­va­tion im­por­tance, in­clud­ing weedy sead­rag­ons, rock lob­sters and abalone” he said. “Their de­cline has seen gi­ant kelp forests na­tion­ally listed as an en­dan­gered marine com­mu­nity.

“Scat­tered in­di­vid­u­als and patches of gi­ant kelp still sur­vive, but there are few records of their lo­ca­tions, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for us to sam­ple the re­main­ing forests and track their fur­ther de­cline or growth over time.” Co-pro­ject lead Dr Cayne Lay­ton said wa­ter­way users could recog­nise gi­ant kelp by its large wide leaves with air blad­ders at its base, a stringy cen­tral stalk or stalks, and float­ing canopy.

“These rem­nant patches of gi­ant kelp might har­bour in­di­vid­u­als more tol­er­ant of warm wa­ter, which could then be used to grow gi­ant kelp that are bet­ter adapted to Tas­ma­nia’s warm­ing coastal wa­ters,” he said. Dr Lay­ton said any large float­ing sea­weed canopy was likely to be gi­ant kelp, al­though other species of large brown sea­weed could some­times float af­ter be­com­ing de­tached. Gi­ant kelp can also be de­tected on a fish-finder or sounder, ap­pear­ing as thin ver­ti­cal shad­ows ris­ing through the wa­ter col­umn.

The free Kelp Tracker app can be down­loaded for Ap­ple and An­droid de­vices.

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