Interview: Dr Aaron Eger, The Kelp Forest Alliance

Interview: Dr Aaron Eger, The Kelp Forest Alliance

Dr Aaron Eger is a dedicated marine scientist and Founder and Program Director of the Kelp Forest Alliance, a global community of practice and research-driven not-for-profit.

Shapeable was introduced to Aaron in 2019 by Professor Adriana Vergés, his PhD supervisor at the University of New South Wales. Together we worked to create the Kelp Forest Alliance’s data and community platform. In this global hub, marine scientists and anyone working on kelp forests worldwide can cross-reference and track different restoration techniques while analysing project efficacy, comparing data and results, and seeing the aggregate impact of the whole community. The Kelp Forest Alliance connects the global community of scientists, artists, policy makers, community groups,and businesses

In his (2023) PhD thesis chapter on "Global Kelp Forest Restoration: Past Lessons, Present Status, and Future Directions," Aaron delved into the rich history of kelp restoration, analysing an impressive dataset of 259 documented attempts spanning 60 years across 16 countries, various user groups, and multiple languages. This research and data set became the foundation for the platform, its scientific citations, members, and geo-mapping.

Scott wanted the video inserted here, but I couldn’t work out how to do it: so I’ve added the final cut to the shared Dropbox ShpContent>Newsletter>Interview Assets>02-Aaron Eger file


I grew up on the west coast of Canada, which is about 50 degrees north on the Pacific Northwest. That was my marine home. When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in the world, my mission to myself was somehow protecting that marine home and making sure that it would be able to sustain itself into the future. All that beauty and splendour I experienced as a child was already diminished from the beauty and splendour my mom experienced growing up in the same spot on the ocean - either trying to protect that or even make it better so future generations could have that. It became a question I'm trying to figure out, ‘How do I actually get there? What do I need to do to make that successful?’

We have kelp forests on over a third of our coastline. They are the largest biological marine ecosystem. They are essential systems for sustaining our coastal oceans and marine ecosystems. Yet despite their importance, they're also understudied. So that was my motivation - to make a difference for the oceans, and this exceptionally important ecosystem that is threatened, degraded and hasn’t received the attention it is due.


As we set out on our research journey and eventually our organisational journey, we wanted to raise the profile of kelp forests and give people and organisations working in those systems the tools and resources they need to save them.

It’s not unique what we’re doing. There is terrestrial conservation - rainforests, grasslands, arboreal forests - or coral reefs and mangroves in the ocean. As we started, we tried to fit what had been done in other ecosystems in kelp forests. Through one-on-one conversations with people working in these other ecosystems, we benefited from their learned experiences. Then we created a custom platform for working in kelp forests. It’s similar to other ecosystems, but there are also specific kelp elements that have been interesting to pull together. It’s still a learning journey. All the information we want to collect, how we collect it, how we organise and communicate it to people. It’s a large task.


Guidebook and best practice

The idea behind our guidebook was to bring together the best available information on planning and recording kelp forest restoration. With about 50 co-authors doing restoration, we gathered the best advice for restoration. In doing that, we also got to see what was missing. Especially as we tried to compare projects because one project would record one thing one way, and the other would do it another way. As we pulled that information together, we saw gaps in the data, and we were able to recommend new projects.

A lot of the learning has been qualitative - just on how the information was collected. It’s hard to quantitatively analyse or assess kelp reforestation with numbers and find a mathematical suggestion on what to do. We need standardised impact metrics and standardised data columns to get that quantitative assessment. Information needs to be comparable across projects across the globe. To do that, we analysed what works best and now track and see how we’re doing.

One key finding in early research was how far behind other ecosystems kelp is in terms of the area being restored. This has also pointed out how little area is protected for kelp forests. The Kelp Forest Alliance aims to increase both those numbers - the size of protected forests and the restored area.

Measuring impact against global biodiversity pledges

The idea behind creating pledges was to build a sense of community and commitment and create a movement for organisations doing restoration and conservation work for kelp forests. We want to highlight the excellent work being done, incentivise new projects and ultimately get governments to make really big binding pledges for tens or hundreds of thousands of hectares.

The pledges are there to inspire and track the outcomes of that activity. Pledges can be area-based for protection or restoration. They can be monetary-based to fund activities. In-kind pledges might be from dive shops loaning boats or scuba gear or from aquaculture facilities donating seed stock.


While we work towards protection and restoration, we're also working to increase awareness and understanding of kelp forests. So we have pledges for people doing art or marketing campaigns, for general teaching expertise, physical space, and professional services to assist and amplify kelp forests into general conversation.

We’re contacting regional and federal politicians to get them to honour their ‘30 x 30’ commitments which was a call to protect 30% of habitats (marine and terrestrial) by 2030 and restore 30% of degraded habitats by that same year. We want to make sure kelp is getting its fair look.

It often happens in the marine realm that protected areas are just drawn over - large patches of relatively open ocean which don’t have a whole lot of biodiversity or activity. Kelp forests need sunlight. They live right next to the coast in the first metres of depth. There’s a whole bustle of human activity in that zone, so it’s harder to create restored and protected areas because of competing interests. We want to ensure that the kelp forests and their ecosystems are adequately managed and that large open patches of empty ocean are not included in meeting international targets.

The value of kelp

Some people want to restore, protect and save kelp because they love it. Some want to do it because they interact with it. Some people want the votes, and some support us because it makes financial sense. Dollars are a graspable unit. It's helpful to express that in dollars to give kelp forests an easy to understand value. Work that we started doing three or four years ago was published recently in Nature Magazine.


As a primary producer, kelp has minimal requirements for growth. In the right water temperature, with the right nutrients, and the right amount of sunlight, it just grows. It doesn’t need fertilisers or insecticides, or any extra additives. In this way it’s more beneficial than other food, pharmaceuticals or industrial materials.

The International Seaweed Symposium was held in Hobart in February 2023. It was the world’s largest international gathering of seaweed scientists, industry experts, and people working on policies related to seaweed. We took the opportunity to launch our latest initiative, The Kelp Forest Challenge. We hosted a series of online and in-person workshops that ended with a global call to protect and restore four million hectares of kelp forests.

We also used the conference to announce our initial pledges, including Korea, Washington State, and the Portuguese municipality. We had 22 pledges across eight countries, about 40,000 hectares of area for kelp forest restoration. Since then, we’ve collected eight more from groups doing different activities around the world. We continue to reach out to not-for-profits in Australia, California, and Canada. Artists, tech companies, and marketing campaign managers have all pledged to help kelp.

Working with Shapeable

Having the early connection to Shapeable helped us accelerate the idea of creating a global community with access to information, consolidating that information and making it accessible and user-friendly. The platform has enabled us to build our community efficiently. I think we're up to about 530 people in the network, and about 150 people have created community accounts on the platform. I'm really happy with how that has turned out and how it’s developing. We’ve received a lot of positive comments from the people using the platform and the website on how it looks and interacts. It’s been a lovely relationship so far.