Tanker's Reef once supported extensive kelp forests (shown in orange). Monterey's kelp forests suffered devastating declines following the unprecedented marine heatwave, sea star wasting disease, and urchin population explosion that ravaged our coastline from 2013-2016. Tanker's Reef became an urchin barren, along with many other locations along the Monterey peninsula. Farther north, in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, kelp loss reached a catastrophic 96%. Our goal is to preserve and restore our surviving kelp forests.
After years of fighting for permission to restore kelp in Monterey, on April 1, 2021 the CA Fish and Game Commission amended their sportfishing rules. This change allows recreational divers with a California fishing license to cull an unlimited number of purple and red urchins using hammers at Tanker's Reef in Monterey.
The boundary of the Giant Giant Kelp Restoration Project at Tanker's Reef is outlined in red. It is located outside of the Marine Protected Areas that encircle most of the Monterey peninsula. The eastern half of the project will be left alone to serve as a scientific control area to compare with our restoration area.
By April 2021, only a small, sparse kelp forest had managed to survive, surrounded by perhaps millions of voracious purple and red sea urchins.
Trained Kelp Restoration Divers began by methodically culling urchins within the 2.5 acre grid shown in yellow. Project divers also cull around the perimeter of small kelp forest areas to create a buffer zone between the urchin barrens and kelp. Starving urchins continuously move toward kelp from the urchin barrens to feed. It takes a year-round effort to prevent the little kelp forests from being devoured by hungry urchins.
We were able to reduce the urchins within the cable grid to less than 2 per square meter within our first six months. We are now expanding our culling areas outward from the cable grid to give new kelp offspring room to settle and grow.