“Could you imagine if 90 percent of the trees on land disappeared in 10 years?”
Kevin Whilden, co-founder of Sustainable Surf and SeaTrees, lobs the rhetorical question in the air and lets it hang for a beat before stating the obvious: “People would know about it and be quite upset.”
It’s 7 a.m., and we’re standing on a cliff at White Sands Beach in San Pedro, California with a jaw-dropping vista of the Los Angeles coastline. The site is one of his team’s projects. Not a bad office. But the work is important. They’re restoring California’s kelp forests, and they’re certain it’s one of our most affective paths to reverse climate change and its accompanying impacts like the wildfires and drought gripping the state.
“This is one of best ways for California to address that problem,” says Whilden. “Kelp forests are basically like the rainforests of the sea. They’re an extraordinary forest with an amazing amount of biodiversity and productivity both in terms of things that live in the forest like fish and sea lions and whales as well as benefits to the ocean itself. It reduces ocean acidity as the kelp grows. It improves water quality, and it also sequesters vast amounts of carbon dioxide in the ocean. So kelp actually fights climate change in a powerful way.”
In ideal conditions, kelp can grow up to two feet per day.
“It can actually go from an urchin barren – meaning bare rock, no kelp, no life back to a healthy, thriving forest that’s 30- or 40-feet tall,” says Sustainable Surf and SeaTrees co-founder Michael Stewart. “It’s extraordinary. There’s no other regeneration or conservation work that we can do that’s faster than that.”
Which is critical, because California’s kelp forests, as Whilden pointed out, are being destroyed.
“Much like the marine heatwaves that have knocked out 50 percent of the Great Barrier Reef over in Australia, on the West Coast, here in California we have the same thing happening to our kelp forests,” says Michael Stewart, co-founder of Sustainable Surf and SeaTrees.
Whilden and Stewart’s solution to the problem is simple. If California is losing its kelp forests at a rapid rate, they’ll restore them. That’s the mission of Sustainable Surf’s SeaTrees initiative where they’ve partnered with SeaVees who has designed a line of eco-friendly shoes called the SeaChange collection that restores one square foot of California kelp forest for each pair sold.
The two activists show us how it all comes together along the Palos Verdes Peninsula, home to their SoCal-based restoration project. Whilden, standing on a cliff, points out the urchin barrens where kelp should be growing but can’t without their help. Stewart then walks us along a nearby beach to offer a firsthand look at the kelp that’s washed up. He points out markers of healthy and unhealthy kelp growth by examining a few of its bulbs.
“Not to be dramatic, but this is less of a light-bulb moment and more of a hazard warning light,” SeaVees product line manager Ashley Tammietti Aceves says. “Being based on the coast gives us a real front-row seat to the destruction that is happening to our environment both on land and at sea.”
The best part of this story?
“This is one of California’s success stories,” says Whilden of their efforts.
The kelp forests in the Palos Verdes restoration project are expanding, and the combined energy of SeaTrees and SeaVees is accelerating the momentum. Hopefully, they’ll be able to point to scores more kelp forests off the coast within the next five years.
If you’d like to get involved, learn more about SeaTrees here, and if you’re looking for a pair of shoes, SeaVees SeaChange collection will make a direct impact on restoring California’s kelp forests.