This kelp forest in Argentina remained almost unchanged for 45 years

Kelp is a type of brown algae that live in shallow waters close to the shore and grow in dense groups, like an underwater forest. They play a key role in the marine community as they help to protect a large number of plants and animals, providing them with food and shelter.

Credit Enric Sala/National Geographic

There’s a growing concern for the future of kelps, affected by global stressors like climate change and local stressors such as pollution, overfishing, and sedimentation. Nevertheless, there’s one area where kelp seems to remain unchanged despite the passing of time.

Alan Friedlander of the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project and colleagues visited the kelp forests in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, which hadn’t been assessed since 1973 due to their remote location. They discovered that the area hasn’t changed much since then.

“The kelp forest of the extreme tip of South America are some of the most pristine on earth and have not changed substantially since the early 1970s when they were first surveyed,” said Friedlander.

“Re-examination of this remote region is incredibly valuable in this age of climate change.”

The researchers worked with scuba divers to collect data, which revealed the kelp ecosystem in Tierra del Fuego hadn’t changed much. Populations of kelp and other animals such as sea urchins and sea stars were on the same level as in 1973. There were no urchin barrens detected.

At the same time, Friedlander and his team used satellite images, available since 1998, to analyze the kelp forest cover. No long-term trends were detected over the past 20 years. They also did a survey of fish and found the number variated according to the location and the level of exposure to ocean waves.

Credit Enric Sala/National Geographic

The fact that no major changes were seen on the kelp forests in Tierra del Fuego doesn’t mean they won’t be subject to any threats in the future, the researchers warned. The rising sea temperatures could alter them in the upcoming years, especially if no further climate action is achieved.

Argentina established the Yaganes Marine National Park in Tierra del Fuego in 2018, allowing only scientific research in the area. Friedlander and his team believe this could help to protect the kelp forests in the area from local and global stressors like climate change.

“This region is one of the last global refuges for kelp forest ecosystems and supports large populations of seabirds, marine mammals and has high biodiversity value,” the study reads. “There is an urgent need to protect this region for its biodiversity value and the ecosystem values it provides.”

The study was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

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