Kelp beds as coastal protection: wave attenuation of Ecklonia radiata in a shallow coastal bay

Rebecca L Morris, Tristan D J Graham, Jaya Kelvin, Marco Ghisalberti, Stephen E Swearer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND AND AIMS Coastal protection from erosion and flooding is a significant ecosystem service provided by vegetated marine systems. Kelp beds are a dominant habitat-forming species on temperate reefs worldwide. While they are valued as hotspots of biodiversity, there is a paucity of information that supports their use in nature-based coastal defence. This includes the effectiveness of kelp beds in attenuating waves approaching the shore and how this influences sediment transport. METHODS Wave loggers were deployed at paired kelp bed and control (urchin barren) treatments at four sites in Port Phillip Bay, Australia. The significant wave height offshore (exposed side) to onshore (sheltered side) of the treatment were compared to determine wave attenuation. KEY RESULTS At three sites, the wave attenuation of kelp beds was significantly less than the control. This result was consistent across the environmental conditions recorded in this study. At the fourth site, on average there was no significant difference in wave transmission between kelp and control. However, wave attenuation at kelp beds was 10% greater than the control during periods of northerly winds. We highlight the importance of disentangling the effects of the reef substratum and kelp when evaluating the efficacy of kelp at providing coastal protection. CONCLUSIONS We have highlighted a significant gap in the research on ecosystem services provided by kelp beds. A greater understanding is needed on which kelp species are able to provide coastal protection, and under what conditions. Such future research is essential for providing managers and policy makers with actionable information on sustainable and cost-effective solutions for coastal defence when faced with a changing climate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-246
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2020


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