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Kelp Forests

Robert Schwemmer
 

Ecology and Importance

Kelp forests are true forests providing shelter and food for over 1,000 species of animals and plants that live within them. Fish such as rockfish, kelp bass and California Sheephead hide among kelp fronds to avoid predators and to search for smaller prey. The tall fronds rising to the surface provide substrate and protection for many invertebrate species. Others, like the sea urchins, wavy turban snails, and abalone are there to dine on the kelp blades.

Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, may grow at depths below 100ft, sending their leaf like fronds to the surface to create a dense canopy. Holdfasts, root like structures that anchor the kelp to the bottom, are excellent hiding places and act as nurseries to juvenile invertebrates such as spiny lobster, sea cucumber, and sea urchins. The blades of kelp help slow water movement within the kelp forest, providing more refuges for smaller organisms such as juvenile rockfish.

Kelp forests of the Channel Islands experience both warm water currents from the South and cold water currents from the North. This mixing of currents creates a highly productive system and a diversity of organisms that is only found over a much greater area of the California coast. Some examples of warmer water species include Garibaldi, moray eels, and the spiny lobster. Examples of colder water organisms include black rockfish, and the sunflower star.

Kelps are harvested for alginates, products that are used as thickeners and stabilizers in many foods and other products from ice cream to soaps and shampoos. Kelp forests also provide the diversity, color, and structure that make them a favorite of divers and photographers.

Did You Know?

Painted Cave, Santa Cruz Island

Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island is one of the world’s largest known sea caves. The cave measures 1215 feet in length (the size of more than four football fields), has a 160 foot entrance, and is almost 100 feet wide.