Strategies for Balancing Long-Run Tradeoffs in the Restoration of Kelp Forest and Coastal Economies in Northern California Under Environmental Uncertainty

Project Number
Project Date Range
Funding Agency
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Focus Area(s)
Resilient Coastal Communities and Economies




Researchers aim to devise strategies for effectively restoring kelp forests and to devise solutions that simultaneously take into account the ecological, socio-economic, and environmental uncertainties of this process. These strategies will promote the restoration of the kelp forest and revitalize local coastal economies.



Kelp forests provide important habitats and nursery grounds for a variety of marine species. However, climate-related stressors such as marine heatwaves and and increase in the purple urchin population have caused the bull kelp forests off the coast of Northern California to decline to only 10 percent of their previous size, leading to major economic losses in decreased tourism and commercial fisheries, and potential loss of cultural heritage of tribal communities. Previous studies have addressed resource management and conservation but lack an integrated framework for managing and restoring degraded habitats, incorporating the biological dynamics of kelp forests, the economic benefits to coastal economies from kelp restoration, and the environmental shocks impacting kelp forests.

For this project, researchers will develop a numerical model that incorporates key economic and ecological components related to coastal kelp forests (e.g., kelp and invertebrate biology, ocean climate, economic benefits and costs), and use the model to simulate different scenarios to identify the biological and ecological processes that significantly affect kelp forest restoration speed, stability of restored kelp, and long-term economic benefits. Thus, they will explore strategies for balancing long-run tradeoffs between investment of kelp forest restoration and economic benefits in coastal economies under environmental uncertainty with the goal of identifying ideal pathways for balancing short-run restoration costs and long-run profits. 

The outcomes of this research will provide a quantitative reference for management agencies to create restoration strategies that balance short-term investment with the long-term benefit of coastal economies through restored kelp forests. Ultimately, this research will help promote the economic capacity, sustainability, and resiliency of local coastal communities in Northern California.

Community Mentor: Kristen Elsmore (California Department of Fish and Wildlife)


Principal Investigators
Michael Springborn
University of California, Davis
profile photo of Marissa Baskett Marissa Baskett
University of California, Davis
Co-principal Investigators
Kyumin Kim
University of California, Davis