A seaweed seed bank for the future

Motivated by the need to build climate change resilience, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is exploring seaweed beds along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to study—and potentially restore—vegetation integral to the overall ecosystem. 

Marine vegetation, especially kelp, is important for species that are ecologically, economically and culturally important to the tribe, as well as to Puget Sound, said Annie Raymond, the tribe’s shellfish biologist. 

“Seaweed and kelp are important to the tribe for subsistence purposes, but are also critical habitat for the marine life that is important to the tribe as well,” Raymond said. 


Jamestown tribal natural resources technician Casey Allen counts types of seaweed.

Seaweed beds, both along the shoreline and in the subtidal zones, provide refuge and are feeding and nursery grounds for marine life including crab, sea cucumber, urchins, rockfish, juvenile salmon, lingcod, eulachon and forage fish such as herring. These underwater forests also provide housing for marine life that are part of the food web for seabird and marine mammal populations, including southern resident orcas. 

“I would say it’s one of the few species, especially bull kelp, that creates a 3D structure throughout the whole water column, which is pretty critical for the aquatic ecosystem,” Raymond said. “Crab, salmon and others use these kelp forests during their different life stages.”

The tribe is partnering with Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) for a two-year study to collect data on existing seaweed beds, then create a seed bank to preserve them for potential restoration needs in the future.

“PSRF is excited to work with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to advance seaweed restoration options and to use our scientific and cultivation capacity in support of tribally led projects,” said Hilary Hayford, PSRF’s habitat research director.  

Developing a baseline of what currently exists is important because, similar to eelgrass, the overall marine ecosystem depends on kelp habitat that has been disappearing from parts of Puget Sound the past few decades.

The change in sizes of bull kelp beds have differed by geographic region throughout time, Raymond said. For example, South Sound kelp are getting smaller over time, yet some regions of the eastern Straits have not experienced much decline.

In addition to targeting kelp species with ecological importance for survey work, the study team has consulted with subsistence harvesters to seek out species and places that are important to the tribe.

In 2023, the tribe and PSRF will expand on the past several years of work by PSRF and partners to develop a local seed bank, adding important kelp species that could be used for future restoration needs. For example, if kelp disappears from shorelines, stored seed from that population could be grown and outplanted, potentially enhancing the kelp resource.

“We don’t know how kelps in the straits are going to be doing in the next 100 years, but this work will help us know what changes are happening and be better equipped to do restoration work in the future if needed,” Raymond said.

Above: Brian Allen and Kathy Burnham with Puget Sound Restoration Fund take bull kelp samples from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Story and photos: Tiffany Royal