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New Research on Oregon Coast Includes Kelp Beds, Seafloor Near Gold Beach

Published 02/16/23 at 8:19 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

New Research on Oregon Coast Includes Kelp Beds, Seafloor Near Gold Beach

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(Newport, Oregon) – A variety of large-scale science research along the Oregon coast was given grant funding this week, so Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) can delve into various aspects of the nearshore environment that will be necessary for future management of marine life. These include the possibilities of bringing the sea otter back to the region. (Photo Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

Grants came from the Oregon Ocean Science Trust, a group that was begun 10 years ago to further ocean research of the region and help monitor coastal resources.

These include:

Kelp communities in transition

What is happening with rocky reef habitats of the Oregon coast and their kelp beds? ODFW's shellfish program has close to $200,000 to document the ecological differences with or without kelp beds. Research will be done by divers specially trained for the area, collecting data on how kelp relate to other species in that environment, such as abalones, sea stars and sea urchins.

Starting this spring and running through the next year, ODFW biologists hope to see the extent and consequences of habitat changes and their relationship to the species around them. Some of these kelp beds have declined along the rocky reef ecosystems of Oregon, while others are unchanged. The research also aids future management decisions.

Seafloor mapping

Near Gold Beach: Meyers Creek area, photo Oregon Department of Forestry

Few know this, but the reefs near Gold Beach are the last major rocky reef system near the shore that remains unmapped. Called the Rogue River Reef complex, this southern Oregon coast habitat supports the largest kelp beds off the coast, as well as the some of the most prolific sea urchin harvesting and the biggest of the Stellar sea lion rookeries.

This unique ecosystem could play a significant role in re-introducing the sea otter back to the coastline too, said ODFW in a release.

The state's Marine Habitat Program snagged a major stamp of approval with this funding, getting the go-ahead to conduct high-resolution seafloor mapping in the area. ODFW will be utilizing state-of-the-art equipment and a specialized technician for the project. Mapping will be timed to avoid strong summer winds.

Juvenile fish dynamics of the Oregon coast

Fishing in the Coos Bay area, photo courtesy Oregon's Adventure Coast

Young fish (such as black, quillback or copper rockfish) are important for recreation and commercial harvesting, and researchers will need to identify them genetically to assist in bringing more to Oregon's nearshore areas.

Oregon State University researchers will be conducting this research, using ten years of ODFW sampling that's already been collected. Marine life leaders can then use this to help manage populations and increase them so there's more for everyone, as well as evaluate how marine reserves work as a refuge for different species of fish. ODFW staff will assist in the project, which was given $169,815.

Nearshore reef trophic modeling

ODFW will partner with OSU to build a food web (trophic) model for further understanding of how various components of the sea otter introduction plans affect other species, including Dungeness crab, kelp, abalone and the sea urchin.

“The work builds on recent efforts to describe and model several aspects of nearshore habitat and species dynamics,” ODFW said.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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