• Seaside Sustainability

Citizen Science: Floating Forests

Written by: Meredith Moore

Giant kelp forests are found along about 25% of all the world’s coastlines and form the foundation of marine ecosystems with their amazing and nutritious properties! They are one of the most biodiverse habitats on Earth and provide a home to so many marine organisms, including starfish, shrimp, sea urchins, and grazing fish. Since giant kelp has such a large growth rate (up to a foot a day!), the habitats they create are ever-changing and constantly growing. Although this is an amazing property, it makes it very difficult to track kelp forests and their abundance across the global coastlines. This is a problem which you can help solve!


A team of scientists and researchers from across the globe have come together to create a program that can track the abundance and location of kelp forests. This program, called Floating Forests, serves as a platform for anyone, scientist, student, or anyone willing, to help in classifying kelp forests from satellite photos. The program can be accessed via any web browser with access to an internet connection through this link. Once you access the site, you can choose to either “Classify Kelp on the Edge: Baja” or to “Classify Urban Kelp”, which are two collections of satellite photos in which kelp classification has not yet been completed. There is a brief tutorial that explains how to classify kelp in the satellite images, and it’s very simple, easy, and fun! If you ever find yourself having trouble identifying or circling the kelp, make sure to utilize the zoom feature, it can be a great help at times. Also, if you ever run into a photo that is just not of good quality, is covered by clouds, or has no kelp present, you should mark the boxes to the right of the photo accordingly. To further assist you through the program, there’s a field guide located on the right-hand side of the page which explains in detail and with photos some images that you may come in contact with and how to correctly identify the kelp in these cases.


As of October 22, 2020, the Floating Forests program already has 13,992 volunteers who have made 1,178,115 kelp classifications from satellite photos! This project has been an amazing aid to scientists trying to understand more about how kelp forests grow and change over time, who wouldn’t want to be a part of this awesome project! You can join the initiative today by visiting this link and registering in the upper right-hand corner. Have fun on your kelp classification journey!


The creators of the Floating Forest project are a team of researchers who have been working on this to see how kelp forests change over time. To view their full bios and learn more about their Floating Forest project, visit Zooniverse.


Dr. Kyle Cavanaugh is working at the University of California in LA researching how climate affects coastal ecosystems. Dr. Jarrett Byrnes is working at the University of Massachusetts in Boston researching algae and marine life along coastlines. Dr. Alejandro Pérez-Matus is a research scientist and post doc at Estacion Costera de Investigaciones Marinas (ECIM)-Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and is studying the relation between fish and kelp. Dr. Andew Rassweiler is working at Florida State University and is researching kelp to determine how factors that determine kelp growth and survival. Dr. Alison Haupt is working at CSU in Monterey Bay researching coastal development and urbanization’s effect on kelp forests. Dr. Jorge Assis is researching species distributions in kelp forests and what environmental drivers affect these forests. Dr. Tom Bell is a postdoc scientists and the University of California in LA and the University of Alaska Southeast researching how kelp responds to its environment. Clare Butler graduated from the University of Tasmania in Australia and is working on researching kelp and their ecosystems. Isaac Rosenthal is a graduate from the University of Massachusetts in Boston and is studying the relationship between urbanization and kelp forests and is working to bring citizen science to classrooms to engage students.



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