Determining Patterns in Nereocystis luetkeana Distribution in Puget Sound Through Local Ecological Knowledge and Gray Literature

Madeline Beaudry, NOAA Fisheries, Mukilteo, WA, United States, Dana Oster, Northwest Straits Foundation, WA, United States and Dan Tonnes, NOAA Fisheries, Seattle, WA, United States
Bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana – hereafter referred to as Nereocystis) is the primary canopy-forming kelp in Puget Sound, and therefore plays an important role as an ecosystem engineer in creating habitat for fish and invertebrates. Nereocystis is also an important carbon source for Puget Sound food webs and has many traditional tribal uses. The decline of brown macroalgal species has been observed around the world, and various causes for this phenomenon have been hypothesized such as elevated sea surface temperature (SST), sediment deposition from shoreline development, and overgrazing from herbivores following elimination of keystone predators. In the last decade, there has been anecdotal concern about the loss of Nereocystis canopy in Puget Sound, but there has been little ongoing monitoring of Nereocystis canopy area. This project aims to determine areas of Nereocystis loss through the collection of local ecological knowledge (LEK), a previously untapped resource. By interviewing anglers, scientists, boaters, tribal members, and local people with memories of kelp in Puget Sound, areas where kelp was present before monitoring programs were adopted have been recorded, filling a previously identified data gap, and visualized in a GIS application. Areas of Nereocystis loss in the San Juan Islands were identified, but more data collection is needed to identify declining and culturally important Nereocystis beds throughout Puget Sound. The data collected in this project will help inform the Kelp Conservation and Recovery Plan in partnership with NOAA Fisheries and the Northwest Straits Initiative.