"We were following the kelp down the reef and just checked out the
reefs. There were tons of sea urchins, sheepshead," Elizondo said.
She also saw angel fish swimming around the kelp.
For environmentalists who are trying to bring kelp forests back to
Orange County, the fish were a sign of success. Nancy Caruso, a
California Coastkeeper Alliance marine biologist, has headed kelp
restoration efforts along the Orange County coast for about four
years. She said fish prefer to swim in kelp forests because they can
hide among the brownish algae. Giving fish a place to swim is one of
the key objectives of restoration efforts.
Urchins however, are part of the problem for kelp. In addition to
planting kelp spores, volunteer divers who have worked on the kelp
project in recent years have devoted a significant portion of their
efforts to moving sea urchins away from kelp forests. The spiny
creatures like to feast on kelp.
"If we can get rid of the sea urchins, that's half the battle,"
Caruso said volunteers need a permit to move urchins. The
creatures have multiplied over the years as the number of urchin
predators, such as lobsters and sheepshead, have diminished. She said
the flow of sediment into the water has also hindered kelp, since the
algae need rocky reefs -- as opposed to sandy deposits -- to grow.
In what was technically a meeting of a Newport Beach water-quality
committee, city officials and others boarded Councilman Tod
Ridgeway's yacht Thursday afternoon to observe kelp beds. Caruso
discussed the kelp restoration project before it was time to go
swimming. In addition to the divers, Assistant City Manager Dave Kiff
went for a swim to observe the kelp, as did water-quality activists
Jack and Nancy Skinner.
"What's exciting is it's like you're swimming in a forest," Jack
"There's so much fish activity in the kelp here. You see a lot of
small fish and bigger fish. It's spectacular," Jack Skinner said.
In late August, the Coastkeeper Alliance released a progress
report of kelp restoration efforts from San Diego to Santa Barbara
between 2001 and 2004. The report stated more than an acre of kelp
had been added to local waters in the time period covered.
The kelp beds observed Thursday were planted before the time
covered in the report, Caruso said. Federally funded kelp work along
the coast began in 2001, but the kelp off Little Corona was planted
earlier as part of a pilot program that involved the Orange County
Coastkeeper, a local water-quality group.
Caruso started working on kelp for Orange County Coastkeeper in
2001. Earlier this year, Orange County Coastkeeper parted ways with
the Coastkeeper Alliance and the kelp program.
Caruso lost her job with Orange County Coastkeeper and was hired
by the Coastkeeper Alliance to continue her restoration efforts. She
said the program is currently funded through 2007.
* ANDREW EDWARDS covers business and the environment. He can be
reached at (714) 966-4624 or by e-mail at