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What are kelp forests?

Kelp forests are a key habitat for fish in the coastal environments of southern Australia and support numerous species important to recreational fishers, including rock lobster, abalone, trumpeter and calamari, all of which live among or nearby kelp forests.


Unfortunately, kelp forests in many locations in Australia are getting smaller. Some of the most dramatic declines have occurred in Tasmania.

The collapse of giant kelp forests is associated with ocean warming and loss of nutrients stemming from the increase of warm East Australian Current water in eastern Tasmania.

Scattered individuals and patches of giant kelp are still surviving but there are few records of their locations, making it difficult for scientists to sample the remaining forests and track their further decline or growth over time.

95% of the iconic giant kelp forests in Tasmania have disappeared, and are now listed as an endangered marine community.


Fishers can recognise giant kelp based on their:

  • large wide leaves with air bladders at their base; and
  • stringy central stalk or stalks;

Typically, the stalks can be detected on a sounder, it appears as thin vertical shadows rising through the water column.

Any large floating seaweed canopy is likely to be giant kelp in Tasmania, but be aware that other species of large brown seaweed can sometimes become detached and will float.

When you see these strands of kelp, simply record the observation into Kelp Tracker, where scientists can use the data to locate and study the remnant kelp.

Introducing the Kelp Tracker 2.0

Building on the success of the Kelp Tracker app (launched in late 2019), the recently launched Kelp Tracker 2.0 platform allows recreational fishers and community members to ‘log’ their sightings of endangered and disappearing giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera). Sightings are then verified by scientists and over time this data will help to create a map of the remaining giant underwater forests.

This will then allow scientists to locate and study the remnant giant kelp which can identify patches that might harbour warm water-tolerant kelp, and locate areas that might be suitable for habitat restoration.

Using the Kelp Tracker, rec fishers can quickly and easily report any giant kelp sightings they see on their travels.

You can find Kelp Tracker 2.0 here: https://bit.ly/kelptracker2

We recommend bookmarking this webpage or adding it to your favourites, so it is easy to access when you find an area of Giant Kelp to report. 

Kelp Tracker 2.0

Giant kelp restoration advancing 

Recreational fishers are sighting new kelp each day and researchers from the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) have identified several strains of giant kelp that can adapt to changing temperatures.

Tens of thousands of microscopic plants have been planted at three underwater sites – Fortescue Bay, Trumpeter Bay (off Bruny Island) and Port Esperance at Dover. It is hoped that these will grow over the next year, will be reproductive, self-sustaining and self-expanding into new forests giving hope for similar environments and restoration projects around the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I keep the Kelp Tracker handy on my phone?

    There are a number of ways you can make it easy for yourself to keep Kelp Tracker 2.0 handy. The first option is to bookmark or favourite it on your browser so you can easily find it when you spot Giant Kelp. Alternatively, you can save the webpage to your home screen as a shortcut, on most browsers this will involve clicking on the “  button and then “Add to homescreen”. This way it will appear on your phone with your other apps and it will take you straight to the webpage. 

  • What happens when I log a giant kelp sighting?

    When you log a giant kelp sighting, it will go to marine scientists to be verified. Once this is done, the data will help identify resilient populations of remaining giant kelp forests and inform conservation and restoration efforts.  

  • What does Giant Kelp look like?

    Giant Kelp grows vertically from the seafloor and is held upright by gas-filled bladders at the base of the wide leaf-like blades. These strands or fronds of Giant Kelp can grow up to 30 meters tall, stretching up towards the sun lit surface, appearing as an underwater forest. Giant Kelp can grow at water depths ranging between 0-30m deep and can either be identified underwater by looking at their physical characteristics, the frond length or recognised by their canopies floating on the water surface – which may be observed from boats or even the shoreline. 

    There are some useful pictures on the Kelp Tracker 2.0 webpage that will help you identify whether you’re looking at Giant Kelp or a different species of seaweed. 

  • Where am I likely to see Giant Kelp?

    Giant Kelp can be found in Coastal waters around Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.  

  • How do I log a sighting of Giant Kelp?

    Simply go to https://bit.ly/kelptracker2 and complete the survey. You will be asked where you saw the giant kelp and to pin it on a map, whether you spotted the kelp from a boat or while in the water, approximate depth, how large the patch is and whether it looks healthy or not. If you have dived/freedived/snorkelled the site, there is also a question asking whether there were sea urchins present.  

    The Kelp Tracker webpage will guide you through this with some useful images to help you with your answers. If there are any questions that you don’t want to answer, you can simply skip them.  

  • Can I log a sighting at any time?

    Yes, you can log a sighting whenever you want. You can do it instantly when you stumble upon a patch, or you can do it later when you get home from your (fishing) trip, as long as you remember where it was located.   


28 June 2023 | Giant kelp need our help to play vital role in Tasmania and southern Australia 

“The number of living creatures of all orders, whose existence intimately depends on the kelp, is wonderful,” so wrote Charles Darwin in The Voyage of the Beagle. And the famous scientist was right. His words, written in 1839, still ring true today. Giant kelp forests are one of the most productive ocean ecosystems on the planet, supporting an incredible diversity of plants and animals. 

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17 MARCH 2020 | Rec fishers find endangered kelp

In a major win for fish and the environment, new sightings of endangered Giant Kelp have been reported by recreational fishers in Tasmania following the launch late last year of the Kelp Tracker phone app. Tasmanian recreational fishers were urged to help scientists trying to research and restore the State’s disappearing Giant Kelp forests by logging sightings of remnant kelp via the new phone app. CEO of OzFish Unlimited Craig Copeland said that it has been very successful so far with over 100 sightings from 22 separate fishers. “With over 95% of the Giant Kelp forests gone, finding the kelp that is left may prove the difference in their successful restoration,” he said. The kelp restoration project is being carried out by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania in collaboration with The Climate Foundation, OzFish Unlimited, Huon Aquaculture and TARfish.

Find Out More

This project would not be possible without the commitment from our project partners, The Nature Conservancy, the Victorian National Parks Association, the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) at the University of Tasmania and our corporate partner BCF – Boating, Camping Fishing.