Nearshore marine habitats such as estuaries are highly productive habitats, playing a vital role for salmon throughout their life cycle. However, these highly sensitive habitats also tend to be hotspots for industrial and recreational activities that damage kelp and eelgrass meadows. That’s why the Pacific Salmon Foundation has developed the Nearshore and Estuary Program to restore and research estuaries surrounding the Strait of Georgia.
Mitigating Climate Change Impacts
Eelgrass and kelp provide critical habitat for juvenile salmon and help stave off climate change impacts. Eelgrass improves water clarity by filtering polluted runoff, reduces negative impacts of ocean acidification, and protects shorelines from erosion by absorbing wave energy and helping to mitigate sea level rise. Kelp forests are a key component of the salmon highway – the interlocking succession of habitat salmon use to hide from predators and feed on their journey to the ocean. Kelp and eelgrass also sequester carbon in underlying sediments. In British Columbia, roughly 400 km2 of salt marsh and seagrass meadows stash away the equivalent of the carbon emissions from 200,000 cars.
What’s causing eelgrass and kelp loss?
While eelgrass restoration has been successful, progress has been hampered by damage from anchors and anchor chains, dock building, seawalls that harden shores, and marine debris which fragments eelgrass beds. Also, due to impacts from climate change, rising ocean temperatures are thought to be a major contributor to kelp declines. This multi-faceted program will include using satellite imagery to map kelp loss and identify areas of resilient kelp populations. The data will be used to identify genetic strains of eelgrass and kelp that appear more resilient to warming waters and can be stored in a new “biodiversity bank”.
Key components of this program include: