A serendipitous meeting with a colleague last year led to a treasure of historical maps of kelp beds off the British Columbia coast, giving geographers a baseline in understanding the ocean’s rainforests. (Maycira Costa/The Canadian Press)

British nautical maps from century ago help B.C. researchers chart kelp beds

Herring use the kelp beds as a deposit for their eggs

A serendipitous meeting between a professor and a colleague last year led to a treasure trove of historical maps indicating kelp bed locations off British Columbia’s coast, helping experts understand the changes in the ocean’s rainforests.

University of Victoria geography Prof. Maycira Costa saw the squiggly lines on the yellowed, hand-drawn map in a picture frame above her colleague’s desk.

The wall art was from 1903 and Costa said her co-worker had found it amongst a pile of old maps in someone’s office.

“I started to look at the details and then I looked at the area that I know of kelp distribution because we are working there with the modern satellite,” she said. “And I looked at that and said, ‘this is kelp distribution.’ “

Using those British admiralty charts from 1858 to 1956, Costa and her research team have now created the first historical digital map of B.C.’s coastal kelp forests.

They’ll use the maps to further investigate the loss of the kelp beds in research supported by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Pacific Salmon Foundation, she said.

“Kelp was considered a navigational hazard so the British carefully annotated all kelp forests on their charts,” Costa said. “And the historical charts increase our understanding of kelp distribution over time.”

READ MORE: 1858 Naval maps combined with satellite data helps researchers map kelp bed health

The kelp forests are known to be an important habitat for several species along the B.C. coast.

Herring use the kelp beds as a deposit for their eggs, crabs, starfish and juvenile salmon also live in the forests, she said.

Kelp also works as a physical barrier to reduce wave action and cut coastal erosion.

“Kelp are the rainforests of the ocean. And they uptake a lot of carbon from the atmosphere of the ocean,” she said.

The province has two types of kelp forests, bull and giant. They grow from shallow areas to depths of about 20 to 25 metres, Costa said.

One of the growing concerns for kelp is warmer water temperatures but it’s unclear if that equates to loss of the forests.

“That’s the golden question, right?”

Kelp beds are also vulnerable to coastal pollution and increased turbidity from shoreline development, she said.

Communities monitoring the kelp beds along the B.C. coast have indicated loss, and now with the help of the British maps the team will work to compare the ocean forests, she said.

They’ll compare the historical maps with the satellite images from 2002 until 2017, she said.

“A lot of environmental conditions play a role in how successful kelp beds are in specific year. Some areas in the United States documented loss of kelp beds especially when the ocean gets warmer,” Costa said.

The next step is to study kelp beds along the entire B.C. coast to better understand how much was lost, she said.

“We now know where they existed about 100 years ago. So what happened recently?”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cloverdale businessman funds wells in Cambodia

Revive Washing in Clayton Heights donates three per cent of profits to charity

Influx of cross-border visitors to Peace Arch Park sparks concern COVID-19 could spike

Police, parks officials say patrols, education and signage have all been increased

Barn catches fire in Surrey

Fire department says ‘pressurized containers’ inside the structure

What June 1 will look like at Surrey schools

High school students following a ‘tutorial model’ where they sign up through a set schedule of times

COVID-19: Daily update on the pandemic in Surrey, White Rock and beyond

MAY 29: Only four new cases of COVID-19 in B.C.

Only four new COVID-19 cases, 228 active across B.C.

Health officials watching as activities ramp up

COVID cancelled their wedding plans, so they married on a BC mountaintop

Ceremony was live streamed to friends and family around the world

Trudeau acknowledges racial unrest in U.S.; ‘We also have work to do in Canada’

‘Anti-black racism, racism, is real; it’s in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,’ Trudeau says

State of Local Emergency declared for Boundary as communities brace for river flooding

Warm weather and heavy rain could cause sections of Kettle River system to swell beyond 2018 levels

Help the ‘Cloverdale Reporter’ continue its mission to provide trusted local news

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Large cruise ships barred from Canadian waters until end of October: Garneau

Last year 140 cruise ships brought more than two million visitors to Canadian ports

Minneapolis cop who knelt on man’s neck charged with murder

Arrest comes after three days of protests, which escalated in violence as demonstrators torched a police precinct

Suspected ‘murder hornet’ leaves Langley man on edge after finding insect in bedroom

The extra-large invasive insect had been first discovered in Brookswood on Thursday, May 28

Police watchdog recommends charges against five Mounties in Prince George man’s death

Police used pepper spray on the man, who then had trouble breathing before dying at the scene

Most Read