Kelp Forest, Ghost Forest

Kelp forest ecology has always been a prominent part of the educational message at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Now, in addition to viewing the aquarium's 70,000-gallon kelp forest tank and related exhibits, visitors can also watch a powerful short science film on the ecological crisis confronting local kelp forests. Entitled Ghost Forest, the film is one example of the innovative approach Scripps is using to engage the public about critical ocean issues. Although the ocean and its resources can seem limitless, there is clear evidence that human impacts such as overfishing, habitat destruction, and pollution have damaged marine ecosystems and threaten the long-term productivity of the seas. Ghost Forest begins with a nostalgic look back at the abundance and impressive size of marine life that flourished in La Jolla Cove in the 1940s. Following this historical perspective, the film examines reasons for the drastic decline of abalone and other iconic kelp forest species. After a brief review of current methods of marine resource management, and why they have failed, Ghost Forest introduces a science-based strategy for rebuilding depleted fish and invertebrate populations and restoring ecosystem function. This strategy calls for the creation of a network of protected areas, known as "marine reserves," that are off limits to fishing and other resource extraction. Ghost Forest clearly shows how much we have lost, but it also reminds us that we stand on the threshold of a unique opportunity to reverse the downward spiral.