Kelp forests vastly undervalued resource in fisheries production, study finds

Spanish mackerel in a kelp forest.

Wild kelp forests help generate an annual average of USD 500 billion (EUR 456 billion) in global fisheries production, a study published in Nature Communications has found.

The study, “The value of ecosystem services in global marine kelp forests,” aimed to calculate the worth of this historically undervalued resource and emphasize its economic and ecosystem benefits.

“[The study is] meant to bring attention to an ecosystem that in the past has not received a lot of focus, interest, or funding because it’s not very well known, or if it is known, it’s not perceived as valuable,” Kelp Forest Alliance Program Director Aaron Eger, the lead author of the study, said.

Wild kelp forests cover over one-third of the world’s coastlines, meaning that about 10 percent of the world’s population lives within 50 kilometers of a kelp forest, according to Eger. The study focused on six different genera of kelp in eight ocean regions in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Southern oceans and referenced over 1,300 fish or invertebrate surveys.

Of the three categories studied to calculate kelp’s global worth – fisheries production, nutrient cycling, and carbon removal – the former comprises the largest share of annual earnings by far. The study estimates global fisheries production hauls in USD 29.9 million annually (EUR 27.3 million) per kilogram per hectare within areas that are environmentally healthy due to the presence of kelp.

Specifically, abalone, lobster, reef fish, and other species use kelp forests as nursery areas and habitats to protect them from predators and adverse weather.

Besides attempting to foster general awareness of kelp’s value, Eger said the study shows the need for better research, restoration, and protection of wild kelp forests. Only 2 percent to 4 percent of these habitats are under protection, and a meager 15,000 hectares of kelp forest have undergone successful restoration projects over the past 60 years ...

Photo courtesy of Kirk Wester/Shutterstock

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