Kelp

Laminariales

APPEARANCE

Kelp is a marine plant that is commonly found in British Columbian waters. Some common names include sugar kelp, sea belt and Devil’s apron. Kelp comes in all kinds of colours from dark brown to golden, olive green and even purplish! Kelp has a central band – the ‘stipe’ – that is dimpled, with many smooth blades trailing from it, and a holdfast, which it uses to anchor itself to the rock beneath it. Some kelps grow hollow, gas-filled bladders from the stipe that aid in flotation.

RANGE & HABITAT

Kelp live in deep sea “kelp forests” or attached to rocks in the intertidal zone.

In general, kelp thrive in rocky areas near the shoreline, where there are lots of nutrients, cold seawater, and calm waves. Kelp is found in oceans al around the world! On Vancouver Island you can see kelp on the lower Gorge Waterway, Esquimalt Lagoon, and the Victoria Harbour.

LIFE CYCLE

Kelp is a type of marine algae, which are aquatic plants. Its leaf-like blades grow at or near the surface of the water to convert sunlight into energy by ‘photosynthesis’.

Kelp has an annual growth cycle. Every year, kelp plants die in the winter and are replaced by new plants in the spring. Decaying kelp provides food and shelter for small coastal insects.

ANIMAL USES

Ocean kelp plays a critically important role in BC’s marine ecosystems. As a primary producer, it is responsible for producing much of the plant material that other species higher in the food web depend on.

Young fish use kelp to grow and develop. Sea otters and seals frequently hang out around kelp forests because of the wide selection of food for consumption. Over 150 different species are known to live in kelp forests, including crabs, sea stars, and octopi, making kelp forests among the most diverse and productive ecosystems in the entire world!

TRADITIONAL USES BY INDIGENOUS PEOPLES

Kelp bulbs and hollow stipes are cured and used to store seal oil. The solid part of the stem can be used as fish lines after being soaked in fresh water, stretched and twisted for extra strength. Nets, ropes, harpoon lines and anchor lines can also be made from kelp. Coastal peoples have long relied on hunting animals that live within kelp beds, such as fish, shellfish, seals and otters. The Kitasoo and Xai’xais people settled in Klemtu thousands of years ago due to the abundance of kelp in the bay.

OTHER USES

Kelp is used around the world for various practical purposes. Believe it or not, elements of kelp are used in some toothpastes, lotions, soaps and even ice cream! Some people still also consume kelp as a health supplement.

STATUS

Kelp is not currently endangered, but there have been periods in which humans eliminated large kelp forests. For example, in the 1700s and 1800s humans nearly hunted sea otters to extinction for their fur coats. Sea otters are a crucial predator of sea urchins, which consume kelp. Without the sea otters to consume the sea urchins, the sea urchin population exploded and over consumed the kelp forests, which harmed the natural ecosystem balance of aquatic life. Read more about this in the link below!

Climate change also poses a risk to these precious kelp forests due to the changes in ocean temperature and nutrients that accompany it.

COSEWIC: Not at Risk

CDC: Yellow

MORE INFORMATION

PHOTO: Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures