Indigenous Tribe Rushing To Save Kelp Before It’s Too Late.

Indigenous Led Kelp Seed Bank in Washington State.

Indigenous Led Kelp Seed Bank in Washington State. Source: Unsplash

Indigenous Led Kelp Seed Bank in Washington State

In Washinton State, the S’klallam Tribe and the Puget Sound Restoration Fund are working to build a kelp seed bank to guarantee the possibility of habitat restoration for future generations.

Kelp is a Keystone Species

The effort to manage and contain the damage of worldwide ecological destruction is a challenge like no other, yet it is being accomplished despite the odds. We rely on our natural ecosystems for life, yet our decisions over the past 200 years across the world have contradicted the obvious; for us to thrive, our environment must also. 

Indigenous peoples have known this fact for generations, incorporating environmental awareness, restoration, and worship into the very fabric of their culture. For some tribes, the appreciation goes towards the trees or the plains; for others, like the S’klallam Tribe in Washington State, that appreciation is for the ocean and the rich biodiversity that exists within it. 

For every ecosystem, some species are key to the survival of the whole, and for marine ecosystems along the pacific northwest, that species is kelp. Kelp is invaluable as it provides shelter for many species of fish, has immersive value as a commercial product, and is part of the heritage of the native peoples along the west coast. 

However, many kelp species have been dying en masse due to warming water, pollution, and other factors. It would be sad to see a world without kelp, as the benefits of its existence would become pronounced in its absence. 

Despite this, some are up to the task of saving this species for future generations. A kelp seed bank is how the S’klallam Tribe and the Puget Sound Restoration Fund mean to address this task.

What is Being Done?

For years, kelp has thrived along shorelines of the pacific northwest. The plant has a unique ability to provide important shelter for a wide variety of other organisms and act as a carbon absorber, taking carbon in and releasing oxygen back out. 

As a result of environmental pollution from various industries, as well as increasing ocean temperature, kelp, unfortunately, have been dying en masse for the past 40 years, give or take. 

While conservation and reintroduction efforts are underway, there must be a backstop to guarantee that kelp can survive for future generations. That is why kelp seed banks are becoming increasingly important, as they can hold these kelp species for as long as necessary until reintroduction can be implemented. 

The Puget Sound Kelp Conservation and Recovery Plan is a partnership between the Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) and the S’klallam Tribe tasked with restoring kelp off the coast of Washington State and British Columbia via kelp seed banks. 

While preserving terrestrial seeds is rather simple, as they can be dried out and stored for however long is necessary, kelp has spores. Spores require a more complex set of procedures; with the spores stored under red light, in low iron environments, or in a freezer, which puts them in a state of arrested development. Conditions for a kelp seed bank must be tightly controlled, with backup power available if the facility suffers a blackout.

Looking to the Future

As the facility nears completion, the benefits and peace of mind of knowing that future generations can access this important species are coming soon. However, that doesn’t mean all is well for kelp in Washington and British Columbia. In much of Puget Sound and along the Juan de Fuca straight, kelp has almost been entirely wiped out. 

Restoration and reintroduction programs alongside the kelp seed banks are crucial if we wish to keep the marine ecosystem healthy. With the loss of kelp, we will assuredly see the death of hundreds, if not thousands, of other species as well. Despite this, the safe storage of spores in kelp seed banks will make reintroducing it significantly easier in the future. While it would be better to save what is already there, making efforts to save what they can now is vital for generations to come.

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