Aside from being the basis for our delicious puffed kelp chips, kelp is an incredibly interesting organism with major ecological importance. Kelp forests make up one of the most diverse and productive marine ecosystems. Despite their importance, you might not know a lot about kelp and kelp forests. Here are some facts you might not know about the fascinating world of kelp.
- Kelp is actually not a plant! Kelp is considered a type of algae. Algae are a unique group of organisms that are not classified as plants, animals, or fungi.
Image Source: Read Biology
- Because it is not a plant, kelp does not have roots, leaves, and stems. Instead kelp has holdfasts, blades, and stipes. Holdfasts are similar to roots, but they don’t absorb nutrients instead they keep the kelp anchored to a hard surface. Blades are similar to leaves, all of the photosynthesis and nutrient absorption happens in the blades. Stipes are similar to stems, but their main function is holding up the blades and they do not provide nutrient transport.
Image Source: UC Santa Barbara
- Kelp is photosynthetic, which means it uses the sun's energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into food. This process makes kelp forest carbon sinks, natural formations which absorb atmospheric carbon. On the global scale, seaweeds are estimated to sequester around 200 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. This is equivalent to the carbon dioxide released by 43 million cars in a year.
Image Source: Harvard
- Some types of kelp have gas bladders called pneumatocysts which help keep the top section of kelp afloat. Giant kelp have pneumatocysts on each blade while bull kelp only has one pneumatocyst to hold it up.
Image Source: National Geographic
- Kelp can grow up to 18 inches per day in ideal conditions. That is an INSANE amount! You can pretty much watch it grow!
Image Source: Oceana
- Sea urchins graze kelp forests in “herds.” At large population densities, sea urchins can destroy kelp forests at a rate of 30 feet per month. At 12 Tides we support SeaTrees, a non profit organization that restores marine ecosystems. SeaTrees has restored over 200,000 square feet of kelp forests in Palos Verdes, California. As a part of this restoration project they carefully manage and remove urchin barrens to promote kelp growth.
Image Source: National Wildlife Federation
- Sea Otters are keystone species in kelp forest because they help control the population of sea urchins that eat kelp. This means that a strong and healthy population of otters is vital to a healthy and productive kelp forest. In addition to being very important to the health of the kelp forests, sea otters use kelp in creative ways. Sea otters wrap themselves in kelp fronds to keep from drifting away when they take naps.
Image Source: NOAA
Image Source: SeaOtters.com
About the Author: Emma Gamble is a junior at the George Washington University majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in public policy. Emma is passionate about incorporating greater sustainability into our food systems in order to create a greener future for people and the planet. Emma enjoys sailing, kayaking, and paddle boarding.