Researchers from The University of Western Australia are studying how kelp can be protected from climate change, but also how kelp can protect us from climate change. To do so, the team have been running a pilot program in Kalbarri, where they have been planting lab-grown kelp to grow the population. A 2011 heatwave devastated kelp in WA oceans, causing the loss of about 100,000ha of forest, and numbers haven’t naturally recovered since then. The team have been studying how kelp can be grown on gravel and rocks in a lab, and then dropped into the water to be planted. “Our project is all about giving those kelp forests a helping hand, to get them back to recovery,’ Dr George Wood said. The early stages of the program have seen 1000sqm of kelp planted in Kalbarri. Results so far have been positive — the planted kelp have reproduced and are growing better than other patches in the region. They aim to test different populations, and different types of rocks, to see if they can find an optimal plant. The 2011 heatwave highlighted just how vulnerable kelp is to changes in temperature, and with rising water temperatures because of climate change, that threat is set to grow. Dr Wood said developing kelp that was better able to handle warmer waters was a key part of the team’s goals. “So far, what we’ve seen is promising . . . the genetic data supports that there are differences in our population, which makes it more heat resistant,” she said. Kelp may not just be a victim of climate change, it could also be a valuable part of fighting it. As part of the UWA team, PhD student Taylor Simpkins has been studying the potential for kelp across the South West, from Port Gregory to Esperance, for storing carbon dioxide in the ocean, away from the atmosphere. “We’re trying to see if this is could be a nature-based solution to climate change,” Ms Simpkins said. “We have seen kelp forests shedding what we call detritus, which is very rich in carbon . . . and that goes to offshore and potentially to the deep sea, where it can be stored.” Ms Simpkins said kelp has previously not had the same focus, and the same protection, as coral reefs. “That’s starting to change now, as we realise how important they could be,” she said.