Kelp forest ecology

Kelp forests are some of the most productive and diverse ecosystems on Earth and occupy approximately 25% of the coastal ocean. They support a wealth a goods and services including coastal protection, carbon cycling, fisheries production and acting as a blue gym. Like most natural ecosystems kelp forests are subject to a wide range of anthropogenic stressors, which is leading to the loss and degradation of these important habitat formers.

Current projects

  • Describing the structure, function and resilience of UK kelp forests
  • Towards an ecosystem-based fisheries management approach to kelp harvesting in Chile and Peru (see more below about our new KELPER project)
  • The structure, function and restoration of kelp forests along the recovering Durham Heritage Coastline
  • Green Gravel Action Group 

Video of some of our kelp work from Orkney to Plymouth in collaboration with Dr Dan Smale, MBA

KELPER: Kelp Ecosystems in Latin-America: Pathways to Ecological Resilience

This project will focus on kelp ecosystems and will provide underpinning scientific knowledge to support sustainable ecosystem-based fisheries management. It is one of four NERC Newton-funded collaborative projects with partners in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru to develop understanding of the social and economic role of biodiversity in Latin America, and how it can be managed more sustainably.

The 3-year collaboration, involving a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the UK (Pippa Moore – Aberystwyth University, Dan Smale – MBA, Mike Burrows – SAMS), Chile (Alejandro Perez-Matus, Sylvain Faugeron, Stefan Gelicich – Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile) and Peru (Roberto Uribe, Alex Gamarra – IMARPE), will examine the ecological structure and functioning of socioeconomically important kelp forest ecosystems in South America. The aim of the project is to better our understanding of environmental, ecological and social drivers of kelp deforestation and to improve sustainable management of an important regional fishery.

Kelp forests are some of the most productive and diverse habitats on Earth, but like many natural ecosystems are under threat from human impacts. In Chile many people make a living by harvesting kelp and associated species from the region’s kelp forests and Peru is interested in developing a kelp fishery. Better management of these kelp forests is required to prevent their degradation and fragmentation, and to improve their ability to support sustainable economic growth.

This project provides an exciting opportunity to work with partners in Chile and Peru to ensure the sustainable development of an important fishery for the benefit of kelp harvesters and biodiversity.

Lessonia trebaculata forests in central Chile (left and top right) and a kelp barren following commercial kelp harvest (bottom right). Photo credit: Alejandro Perez-Matus

Biological habitat enhancement of coastal engineering

There is an increase in coastal and offshore engineering in response to climate change. In the UK the Marine Act (2009) states that in addition to  “avoid(ing) harm to marine ecology and biodiversity” marine planing should “provide opportunities for building-in beneficial features for marine ecology and biodiversity”. We are interested in developing low-cost interventions at the design stage or during maintenance works to increase beneficial features of marine biodiversity.

Current Projects

  • Ecostructure project – identifying the drivers of diversity deficits on artificial coastal structures and testing existing and novel eco-engineering interventions in an Irish Sea context
  • Ecostructue II – will design and test novel artificial habitat units for early benthic phase and juvenile lobsters and use acoustic telemetry to provide information on lobster, crab and cod movement around wind farms.

Conservation_evidence_synopsisA key output of the Ecostructure project has been a thorough review of the effectiveness of different marine eco-engineering interventions – Evans, A.J., Moore, P.J., Firth, L.B., Smith, R.K. and Sutherland, W.J. (2021) Enhancing the biodiversity of marine artificial structures: Global evidence for the effects of interventions. Conservation Evidence Series Synopses. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. 225pp


  • Previous the effects of incorporating low-cost rock pool interventions for increasing biodiversity on coastal defence – see our CIRIA one big challenge award for more Innovative design
  • there is increasing interest from the scientific community in habitat enhancement of coastal/offshore engineering, but what is the perception of ecological engineering more broadly (i.e. statutory bodies, consultants, engineers etc)
  • the development of novel material design to mitigate the impacts on climate change and for incorporation within engineered structures

Climate change and marine ecosystems

We use long-term data, in-situ gradients, ex-situ experimental manipulations and synthetic approaches to determine the impacts of environmental change, particularly decadal scale warming and marine heatwaves, on marine biodiversity and the structure and function of shallow-water marine ecosystems.

Current Projects

  • The impacts of climate change on shallow-water benthic marine ecosystems
  • Blue-carbon potential of marine macrophytes (kelp & fucoids)
  • Impacts of marine heatwaves (MHWs) for marine biodiversity – find out more about our MHWs working group 

Interested in MHWs, then check out our Working Groups live global MHW tracker