19th-century naval charts help sketch future of BC kelp

Social Sciences

Stock photo of Vancouver Island bull kelp. Photographer: Nick Norman.

A new tool for understanding kelp decline and its impact on BC coastal habitats drew upon historical sketches from the last century to paint a stark picture about the future of our oceans. Kelp forests are a rich ecosystem critical to many species such as herring and salmon, but researchers know that kelp is decreasing in some areas of the Pacific Northwest. 

Now, using an innovative method involving British admiralty charts from 1858 to 1956, UVic geographer Maycira Costa and her research team in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) (Science and Coastal Environmental Baseline Program) and the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) have created the first historical digital map of BC’s coastal kelp forests to further investigate the loss of kelp. 

Kelp forests play an important ecological role in the health of our oceans so when we lose kelp beds, it impacts the habitat of many marine species.
–UVic geographer Maycira Costa

The new reference map will help address questions related to the habitats of salmon, herring and many other species that rely on kelp for protection and food. Costa, with support from the Pacific Salmon Foundation, is comparing the historical maps to satellite images of coastal areas to understand how these habitats have changed and why. 

“Kelp was considered a navigational hazard so the British carefully annotated all kelp forests on their charts,” explains Costa. “And the historical charts increase our understanding of kelp distribution over time.” 

This research will support initiatives led by DFO that focus on kelp and other ecologically significant species.   

Funding for this mapping project was provided by DFO, under the Oceans Protection Plan, with in-kind support from the CHS. 

View the digital historical map: uvicspectral.com/research/kelp

A press kit containing photos, historic charts and digital reproductions is available on Dropbox.

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Media contacts

Dr. Maycira Costa (Dept. of Geography) at 250-721-7334 or maycira@uvic.ca

Anne MacLaurin (Social Sciences Communications) at 250-217-4259 or sosccomm@uvic.ca

Tara Sharpe (University Communications + Marketing) at tksharpe@uvic.ca

In this story

Keywords: oceans, fisheries, climate, environment, geography

People: Maycira Costa

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