Christine Spice with M.C. Wright and Associates Ltd. holds a spool of kelp seed ready for planting. Photo courtesy NIC

Christine Spice with M.C. Wright and Associates Ltd. holds a spool of kelp seed ready for planting. Photo courtesy NIC

North Island College helping research kelp habitat improvements for forestry sector

Latest ocean-based research project aided by Centre for Applied Research, Technology and Innovation

NIC’s Centre for Applied Research, Technology and Innovation (CARTI) is working with M.C. Wright & Associates Ltd. and BC Timber Sales (BCTS) to plant kelp at various log storage and handling marine sites on Vancouver Island.

The three-year project is funded by an Applied Research and Development grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) in addition to contributions from the project’s partners.

The goal of the project is to use planted kelp to support the marine habitat in areas where woody debris from log storage and handling has built up on the ocean floor.

“Forestry is the largest resource sector on Vancouver Island and one of the sector’s major challenges is containing and mitigating the negative impacts of logging on coastal habitat,” says Allison Byrne, NIC lead researcher. “Kelp naturally provides food and habitat for many different species while improving water quality. Planted kelp beds have the potential to create marine habitat and/or rehabilitate degraded marine habitat.”

M.C. Wright and Associates Ltd. are experts when it comes to habitat rehabilitation.

President Mike Wright approached NIC about the possibility of collaborating on a kelp project to expand the ‘toolbox’ when it comes to habitat rehabilitation.

“I have been looking at expanding on the kelp propagation research we completed in 2013,” Wright says. “Given the decline of kelp forests throughout coastal British Columbia, I felt that more research was needed to refine the technique. Through further refinement of the methods developed and adding new Kelp Propagation techniques to the toolbox, I feel that rehabilitating impacted habitat with kelp forests will help in creating more of this important three-dimensional habitat for marine organisms, adding the project will allow them to bring students in to do direct studies with them.

“Having the college involved also gives us the capability to expand the project every year,” Wright says.

The researchers are testing different species of kelp and different planting methods at four BC Timber Sales sites to determine what combination of site conditions and kelp planting techniques provide the most effective habitat.

“BC Timber Sales is excited about the opportunities kelp provides,” says Kerri Brownie, stewardship officer with BCTS. “BCTS recognizes there is significant carbon sequestration in kelp beds and is interested in measuring the levels of carbon sequestered in order to assess the effects of climate change. Engagement on projects such as this one are part of our Climate Change Action Plan.”

Initial planting took place in March 2020, and the research team monitored kelp growth throughout the spring and summer. Byrne says the results are promising and may have wide application.

“We are seeing clear differences in kelp growth based on how and where it was planted,” said Byrne. “The results will help the industry partners, and potentially other companies, make informed decisions about future marine habitat banks by examining what site conditions and kelp cultivation techniques were or were not successful during our trials.”

This is the second kelp-based research project CARTI has announced in the past year. Last June, they also announced a partnership with the Kwiakah First Nation to research into the wild kelp beds on their territory.

For more information on CARTI projects, or to learn about working with CARTI on applied research projects, visit www.nic.bc.ca/research.

RELATED: NIC partners with Kwiakah First Nation on kelp research

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