Skip to main content

Rising sea temperatures are destroying Australian kelp forests at a 'rapid' pace

Rising sea temperatures are destroying Australian kelp forests at a 'rapid' pace

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.


Climbing sea temperatures along the coast of Australia has led to massive deterioration of underwater kelp forests, New Scientist reports. In a study published in Science this week, researchers at University of Western Australia in Perth found a correlation between rising temperatures in the Indian Ocean and changes in kelp populations. Last year, the researchers found no signs of kelp recovery in the area following a record-breaking 2011 heatwave.

No sign of recovery

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), kelp requires temperatures between 5 and 20 degrees Celsius to survive. In 2011, temperatures at sea surface level off the coast of Western Australia reached more than 2 degrees Celsius above average. About 90 percent of Australia's kelp forests were destroyed between 2010 and 2013, The Guardian reports. As New Scientist points out, it's the most "extensive and rapid" loss of kelp forests ever documented.

Kelp forests provide oxygen and a habitat for marine life, and as temperatures rise, the kelp will continue to retreat south. Tropical fish and coral reefs that fare better in warmer water will take over the old kelp forest locations, New Scientist reports.

"It was quite a shock to come back to these diving locations and all of a sudden realize, ‘Wow – this is completely different’," lead researcher Thomas Wernberg told New Scientist. "When we went up to the northern regions and saw that everything was gone, it was devastating."