Alone a drop, together an ocean. Bringing together 450 people from 25 countries, the Kelp Forest Alliance is launching the Kelp Forest Challenge, a global movement to protect and restore our world’s kelp forests.

The Kelp Forest Challenge is calling upon society to restore 1 Million and protect 3 Million hectares of kelp forest by the year 2040. This ambitious target creates a shared vision for ensuring our kelp forests and the benefits they provide, thrive into the future.

The target area of kelp – which equates to an area about the size of Switzerland – needs to be protected and regrown in the next two decades to stem and reverse a decline that has seen up to 95 % of the canopy disappear in places like Tasmania and California. 

While similar habitats like coral reefs often get more attention, kelp forests are one of the most unique and productive ecosystems on earth. These vibrant underwater jungles of brown algae live in shallow waters off a third of the world’s coastlines and are incredible hubs of biodiversity. But threats like climate change and pollution have brought some kelp forests to the brink of extinction.

“Terrestrial forests and coral reefs have often been the focus of much-needed protection and restoration in recent years, but kelp forests are just as vital and are disappearing by the minute,” says Dr. Aaron Eger, Founder and Program Director of the Kelp Forest Alliance (KFA). “On land, we have powerful high-level initiatives like the Bonn Challenge to restore deforested landscapes,” says Professor Adriana Vergés, a marine ecologist from UNSW Science and a KFA director. “The Kelp Forest Challenge represents an equivalent ambitious target to protect and revitalise our underwater forests.” Dr. Eger says while a pledge can be monetary, any positive contribution towards kelp forest conservation projects can count-

“This initiative aims to encourage and facilitate positive actions and communities that can protect what is remaining and restore what has been lost with an ambitious shared vision for ensuring our kelp forests and the benefits they provide thrive into the future,” Dr. Eger says. “We have media and marketing companies working to help promote kelp forests, dive companies loaning the needed equipment, and aquaculture groups helping produce seed stock.”

According to best estimates, restoring 1 million hectares of lost kelp forest will require an initial investment of $40 billion but will produce tens of billions of dollars each year through a coastal restoration industry comprised of fisheries, blue carbon, and tourism. 

“If we are successful, we can restore billions of dollars in ecosystem services, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and rebalance the ocean to a place of abundance and beauty,” Dr. Eger says. 

While most restoration projects to date have taken place on less than a hectare, larger-scale restoration is becoming more viable. Twenty organizations have already made pledges and this is just the beginning. 

“We have seen an acceleration in the size of projects and scale of success above 100 hectares now,“ Dr. Eger says. “As methods like transplanting are refined, knowledge is shared, and economies of scale emerge, the feasibility of this work will increase, and this project will only help accelerate it“ 

Contributing to these targets also align with the newly announced Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to protect and restore ecosystems. The potential for kelp to sequester carbon dioxide means that it may also contribute to commitments under the Paris Agreement. 

“We would love to work with governments to achieve these targets and mobilise funding for restoration projects,” Dr. Eger says. “But we do not have time to wait for an international collation to form and create a target, the need to act is too pressing.”

While we may be unable to entirely halt climate change by restoring a kelp forest, any progress towards their restoration is still a positive contribution. “We further hope that the positive action we are putting forward helps shift the conversation to a more equitable and sustainable future, not just for kelp forests but all ecosystems under threat,” Dr. Eger says. “Alone we might be a drop, but together, we are an ocean.” 

The Kelp Forest Challenge launches Sunday, 19th February, in Hobart, Australia, ahead of the world’s largest gathering of seaweed experts at the International Seaweed Symposium. 

This article is originally by Kelp Restoration Alliance.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, led by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and its partners, covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. As a global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. Find out how you can contribute to the UN Decade. Follow #GenerationRestoration.