California’s Kelp

Although kelp grows in many locations, the kelp forests off the coast of San Diego are some of the richest and most developed beds on earth.  Kelp is generally found in areas where nutrient levels are high.  This often occurs where there is an upwelling of nutrients from deep waters or where nutrients are provided locally but other mean such as seal wastes.  The size of the kelp beds vary from year to year, determined by water temperature and storm actions as well as various pollution and harvesting issues. You will be able to see the vast beds of Kept on some of your yacht charters.

Kelp creates flat patches on the water, as the vegetative growth mutes the wave and wind action on the ocean’s surface.  Close up, it looks like you are moving through the leaves at the very top of the forest canopy.  Under water, it looks like a dimly lit forest with the sun’s rays piercing through a submerged forest.

The Kelp Plant

The kelp plant is one of the fastest growing plants on earth and under ideal conditions may grow a couple feet per day.It prefers water temperatures in the 50 – 65 degree F range and may reach upwards of 120 feet in height.  Kelp anchors itself of the ocean floor by mean of a “hold fast” – a bunching together of the roots on rocky reefs or onto anything it can find to hold on to.  As the leaves reach the surface of the water they spread out to form a canopy much the way trees in a forest do.Often the kelp branches will appear like deer antlers sticking out of the water – perhaps the analogy is a result of the author’s rural upbringing in Canada.

The kelp bed provides a habitat for a host of creatures, both herbivores and carnivores.  It is a rich ecosystem with some eating the plant itself; some eating the plants springing up in the environment created by the kelp bed;  and some eating the other animals that come to the kelp bed for food and shelter.

Kelp and It’s many uses

The kelp plant has been used for thousands of years and has many uses.  The beds off of San Diego were harvested beginning in 1911, which continued until 2005, when operations ceased due to economic issues.

Kelp is very rich in iodine and extracts are used to treat thyroid problems, as well as used to treat arthritis. Kelp-derived alginate is used as a thickener for ice cream, salad dressing and toothpaste, as well as a host of other products.  Literally, it is contained in dozens of common consumables used each day.

Boating around Kelp

The kelp beds extend a couple miles off the shoreline of San Diego, but they are especially prevalent off of Point Loma.While boating, it is necessary to be careful venturing too deeply into kelp for a couple of reasons:

  • The kelp may wrap around the boat keel or prop shaft and you may get stuck;
  • Motoring through kelp may cause pieces of it to break off and clog the water intake ports on the engine, resulting in engine overheating.

The kelp beds provide a rich habitat and valuable natural resource that need to be protected.  Many local residents are unaware of kelps existence or importance within the local maritime systems.  Now that the reader has an understanding of this issue, please work to protect the kelp beds off our coast.

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.(John F. Kennedy – 35th President 1917-1969)

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