Kelp Forest Community Ecology

Science Center Objects

The near shore waters along the coast of southern California host one of the most productive marine ecosystems on earth: giant kelp forests. These complex environments provide habitat, food, and hiding places for more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, but are easily disturbed by both natural events and human activities. Strong storms, fluctuating water temperatures, coastal development, sedimentation, pollution, and, in particular, fishing can cause dramatic changes in kelp forest communities. WERC’s Dr. Kevin Lafferty is studying the biodiversity and renewable energy potential of the near shore environment to support resource agencies’ efforts to sustain healthy kelp forests and plan out sites for alternate energy.

Monitoring Biodiversity in the Santa Barbara Channel

The Santa Barbara Channel, a stretch of sea just off the southern California coast, is incredibly diverse in wildlife and habitats. As such, its ecosystems have been the focus of separate monitoring efforts by government agencies, universities, and non-profit organizations interested in studying the health of the marine environment. Dr. Kevin Lafferty’s studies support the development of a Biodiversity Observation Network (BON) in the Channel, to link existing monitoring programs and answer major remaining questions about the Channel’s ecosystems. By connecting existing monitoring projects in the region, the BON will allow scientists to effectively cover the entire spectrum of the Channel’s biodiversity, from ecosystems to microbes. Partners include the University of California, Santa Barbara, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Predicting the Effects of Wave Energy Facilities on Nearshore Ecosystems

A photo of a diver installing a pressure sensor in nearshore waters.
A photo of a diver installing a pressure sensor, which will help detect wave energy at specific nearshore sites.

Wave energy conversion (WEC) devices extract potential energy from the rise and fall or surge of open ocean swells and convert it into energy for human use. As a result, wave energy decreases between the device and the shore. Dr. Kevin Lafferty is investigating the possible effects of reduced wave energy on species that live on nearshore reefs. For example, wave energy structures can cause environmental effects from noise, hazard, construction, anchoring, animal entanglement, turbulence, sedimentation, fouling, and reduction in wave height. Results from Dr. Lafferty’s studies can help the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) determine the degree to which WECs affect currents and other physical features of the marine environment. BOEM anticipates receiving applications for WEC devices on the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf in the coming years.