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2,300 acres near Everett now under 'Protection Zone' for kelp, eelgrass

The move is part of a Watershed Resilience Action Plan, which will restore the salmon habitat in the Snohomish River watershed.

Editor's note: The above video on the disappearance of bull kelp in Puget Sound originally aired Aug. 25, 2021.

EVERETT, Wash. – Washington state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is working to conserve a large area of habitat for kelp and eelgrass, a type of seagrass, near the mouth of the Snohomish River by establishing a “Protection Zone.”

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced the “first-of-its-kind” effort Monday, explaining that the zone spans 2,300 acres and is part of a 10-year Watershed Resilience Action Plan.

Franz signed a commissioner order that prevent any development within the zone, which includes a forest of bull kelp at the southern tip of Hat Island, for the next 50 years. The zone also covers an eelgrass meadow along the Snohomish River delta and along the shoreline of the Tulalip Indian Reservation, according to Franz.

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“Our kelp and eelgrass are the breadbaskets of the Salish Sea," said Franz in a statement. "They’re critical to the survival of our dwindling salmon and orca populations and act as a vital indicator of the health of our waterways because they respond so quickly to changes in water quality."

She added that climate change is also impacting the region’s waters, causing a “precipitous decline” in the amount of kelp and eelgrass in Puget Sound.

Kelp and eelgrass can help alleviate the effects of climate change by eating carbon dioxide that soaks into the sea. Left unchecked, the carbon dioxide can create carbonic acid and make the waters more acidic. This can lead to dissolving the shells of shellfish, adversely affecting their populations through the region.

It’s something that’s been seen in Puget Sound, according to an ocean acidification specialist with the University of Washington.

Franz said that kelp and eelgrass also provide young fish species shade and camouflage as they grow and support the ecosystem.

“Eelgrass and kelp play an important role as habitat for salmon and as a buffer against climate change effects. Working together with our partners at DNR and Snohomish County we continue to find ways to improve quality habitat for these threatened species,” Franz said.

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