Conservation: Restoring Orange County's Kelp Forests

By Nancy Caruso

Kelp Forest Conservation: Get Inspired!

Orange County Ocean Restoration Project

By Nancy Caruso



Southern California divers care about their oceans.  I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with so many divers who want to bring about change.  In fact, I would not have a career were it not for the passion of the diving community in Southern California.  You see, in 2002, amidst some criticism, I started a project in Orange County to restore the kelp forests that had been gone for 30 years.  That was a mega-task.  A task I alone, could not have done.  Happily, it was the goal to include volunteers to help me with this task, so I dove in head first, and it has been the most rewarding experience of my life. 


Planting Kelp

  A diver attaches kelp hold-fasts to the rock with rubber bands


Orange County Ocean Restoration Project

Over the last nine years we have:

  • Planted five acres of kelp that has spread all over Orange County
  • Taught 5,000 students in 27 different schools to grow kelp in their classrooms and about kelp forest ecology
  • Educated 15,000 people through public outreach events
  • Surveyed 15 reefs (consistently) in Orange County which serves as the baseline for the new MPA in Laguna Beach
  • Relocated over 100,000 sea urchins (that’s a lot of spines)
  • Taught 1,100 students how to grow green abalone in their classrooms which are waiting for permits to be planted on reefs
  • Taught 100 students how to grow white sea bass in their classrooms which will be released In June, 2011
  • Started Kelpfest, an annual event to celebrate giant kelp and inspire a culture of appreciation for kelp forests

Kelp Restoration Before


And the effort continues…

We are currently restoring kelp in Shaw’s Cove and looking for other urchin barrens (reefs covered with urchins) to restore.  The ocean conditions are perfect for kelp to grow so we want to reestablish as many reefs as possible.  Please let me know if you are aware of any in Orange County, specifically Laguna Beach.  I am also looking for sightings of abalone in Orange County.

We hope to continue the school programs next school year to keep creating ocean stewards.  The students that take part in growing organisms for the project create a lasting connection to the ocean because they spend the whole year caring for them. It is our hope that they will make decisions to protect them in the future.

I have experienced lots of drama, heartbreak, love, disappointment, and joy in the last nine years of this project but my favorite take away has been the friends that I have made and the adventures that we have had together.   Thousands of people have helped make this project a success whether it be donating airfills, relocating sea urchins, letting me use your photographs for education, discounting a table for me at the scuba show, taking me out on your boat, teaching in a classroom,  giving me money, giving me discounts,  writing articles about the project to spread the word, giving me “stuff”,  fixing my boat,  and countless other ways, that you show your love for the ocean and your belief in what we are trying to do, Thank you Southern California Divers for all of your contributions and thank you for loving our ocean, I look forward to continue to change the world together.



Get Inspired! Volunteers

Get Inspired! volunteers after a successful day of helping to restore the kelp forests



Upcoming Events


If you would like to share your inspiration and volunteer to help Get Inspired!, please contact Nancy Caruso at or 714-206-5147
Upcoming events: 

  • June 7th  “Help the Kelp” Open House Huntington Beach High School. Come see the white sea bass growing in the classroom, arts and crafts for kids, science presentations by students, art contest ( all put on by a Girl Scout earning her Gold Award which is the highest award in Girl Scouting)
  • June 26-30  Discover the Channel Islands: Scuba and Marine Science Camp for kids 13-18 years old.  Students will earn open water or advanced certification while learning marine science with Nancy Caruso and Ocean Gear Dive Center
  • July 15-September 15 “Voyage: Get Inspired” Get Inspired will travel across the country by boat with stops in major cities to inspire people to get outside and explore the natural world.  Follow this journey on Facebook “Get Inspired”


Editor's Note:  Nancy has recently been selected by a panel of experts as a finalist for this year's Oceana "Ocean Hero" award for her work with the Orange County Restoration Project.  Please take a second to vote for Nancy here.  *Hint* She's the one with the scuba mask on her head!  Thanks, and congratulations again to Nancy!



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