In the Strait of Magellan and Almirantazgo Sound, a group of scientists carried out an expedition to monitor macroalgae forests. The work is considered unprecedented.

Studying the potential of gian kelp underwater forests to mitigate the climate crisis through carbon storage in their tissues and sediments was part of the objectives of the campaign developed by the Center for Dynamic Research on High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) de la Austral University of Chile (UACh), en conjunto con la University of Western Australia.

Underwater monitoring was developed in the Strait of Magellan and in the Almirantazgo Sound through research activities on the ecology and physiology of the giant kelp, whose scientific name is Macrocystis pyrifera. Meanwhile, sediment, water and algae sampling was also carried out in two tributary fjords of Almirantazgo Sound, Ainsworth Fjord and Brookes Fjord, close to the Marinelli and Gallegos glaciers.

Dr. Iván Gómez, director of the IDEAL Center and leader of this project, describes this research on blue carbon as a milestone. “This study is important because it collects terrain information that is used to validate different models. The presence of surrounding glaciers is a focal point, given that carbon from algae can be deposited and buried in these systems for years. In this sense, the role of the IDEAL Center is crucial, since we already have several years of experience working in the kelp forests of the region and we can also access places practically unknown to the vast majority of our foreign colleagues,” he says.

The also academic from the Institute of Marine and Limnological Sciences (ICML) of the UACh maintains that “it is the first time that underwater monitoring has been carried out that covers the physiological characteristics and morphometric characteristics to see the biomasses that these macroalgae reach; and, above all, molecular, with the aim of capturing the presence of algal material in these sediments and in the surrounding water.”

Dr. Gómez, who has participated and coordinated various research projects focused on algae communities in different coastal systems, recognizes that “the expedition was a success, since we observed in situ the characteristics of these places to plan future expeditions and it was the starting point for a collaboration that is expected to be very productive. The capabilities of the IDEAL Center and the University of Western Australia will converge to significantly advance the knowledge of the role of the giant kelp in global processes.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Mauricio Palacios, researcher at the IDEAL Center and the Rewilding Chile Foundation, mentions that “the algae ecosystems of Patagonia have remained without major alterations in the last two hundred years. The same is not happening in Australia, New Zealand or California. That is why these types of studies are important from the point of view of conservation and to enhance the role of algae ecosystems as carbon capturers.”

For his part, Dr. Albert Passarrodona, researcher at the UWA Oceans Institute & School of Biological Sciences, of the University of Western Australia and Conservation International, believes that “it is important to collect data and see where there is a greater presence of these forests, as well as perform the validation of more global models at a more local and smaller scale.” He adds that “the forests here are unique because they are very extensive and apparently they have not changed much. It is possible that for hundreds of years they have been accumulating carbon in the sediments. It is important to understand its role and whether it is persistent over time.”

The project, which is also made up of research assistants Dayane Osman and Jaime Loaiza, also seeks to evaluate the ability of the giant kelp to occupy new substrates that are being opened due to the retreat of glaciers.