Kelp Forests

Kelp forest at Channel Islands National Park. Text over image reads: Made of kelp, a large brown algae.  Can grow up to 150 feet. Home to many different species. Found at temperate to polar parks.

Kelp forests can be compared to a redwood forest. They proved shelter and food for over 1,000 species of animals and plants. Unlike a redwood forest, kelp is found in nutrient-rich, cold clear water usually on the western coasts of continents. One of the places kelp forests can be found is long the coast of California in Channel Islands National Park.

Kelp looks like a tree, but it is a large brown algae. Kelp is known for its size, it can grow up from the ocean floor and reach about 262 feet in length and grow as fast as 1.5 feet a day. Kelp does not have roots. Instead it secured by holdfasts to a rocky seafloor. It will grow as deep as light is available for photosynthesis. Some kelp will grow vertically due to air-filled bladders known as pneumatocysts. This gives kelp the forest-like look.

Kelp forests are home to many different ocean species because of the canopy it creates. Fish, sea urchins and other marine animals, such as snails and sea otters like to call this home. Mammals like the sea lion and whale also like to dwell underneath the canopy of kelp.

Kelp forests of the Channel Islands experience both warm currents from the south and cold water current from the north. This mixing of current creates a highly productive system and a diversity of organisms that can only be found over the California coast.

This habitat is influenced by both natural events and human activities. Strong storms and changing water temperatures can cause changes in kelp forest communities. Human activities also impact the health of kelp forests through coastal development, sedimentation, pollution, and fishing. Removing predators while fishing can alter the food chain. For example, with the elimination of sea otter and the over harvesting of the spiny lobster in California, plant-eating animals like the purple sea urchin can spread and eat kelp, causing a loss of habitat. This habitat can quickly change to an empty landscape. The loss of kelp forest also gets rid of nursery grounds for many marine species who call this habitat home.


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