Bull Kelp Monitoring

Bull Kelp Monitoring

Bull kelp (Nereocystis leukteana) is the largest species of brown algae native to our region. This fast growing seaweed can grow up to 60 feet in length in a single year and is an important component of the rocky intertidal ecosystem of the Salish Sea. Bull kelp provides a protective habitat for a number of species in the Puget Sound. Animals critical to the food web, such as herring, use bull kelp forests for protection and food during certain life stages.


Working in partnership with the Northwest Straits Commission, the Whatcom MRC conducts annual boat-based surveys of selected bull kelp canopies during low-tide events between July-September. Using handheld GPS units and kayaks, volunteers map the perimeter of the beds and collect additional data including water temperature and bed depth estimates to provide valuable information on the status of bull kelp along the Whatcom County shoreline. The data is shared with the Northwest Straits Commission for comparison with similar information collected by other MRC counties.

Whatcom MRC Kelp Survey Sites

The MRC uses a standard protocol developed by the Northwest Straits Commission to simply and reliably monitor changes is existing kelp beds.  You can view data from each of the kelp beds surveyed at the links below.

Data graphics developed by: Leah Robison, Northwest Straits Commission

Washington State Floating Kelp Indicator Released!

Kelp data collected during these surveys  are a key part of the Washington State floating kelp indicator and synthesis of floating kelp in our region.

This indicator assesses long-term trends in the extent of canopy-forming kelp forests at sampling locations throughout Washington State by tracking the area of kelp beds on the water surface. Results at each location are synthesized with other information into an overall assessment of floating kelp status within 11 sub-basins defined by oceanography.

Puget Sound Vital Signs web site

Interactive map

Statewide summary report

Monitoring program design report



In 2022, the Washington Department of Natural Resources worked with the MRCs and the Northwest Straits Commission (NWSC) to review and provide recommendations on the kelp kayak monitoring protocol and to synthesize MRC kayak data for inclusion in the Floating Kelp Indicator. Their final report on this process and their recommendations have been completed and is now available.

For more information about this program, check out the NWSC kayak-monitoring webpage.

Photo by Jim Ramaglia
Bull Kelp Monitoring