Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Posts from the ‘Algae/Seaweed’ category

Every Breath You Take . . . .

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©Jackie Hildering

Er – sorry about that. Thanks to the blog title, you likely now have The Police’s stalker-ish lyrics playing annoyingly in your head.

Let me take the Sting out of that for you.

The only lines of the song that apply to this blog item are: “Every breath you take” and “Every move you make” because  . . . this blog is about marine algae.

giant kelp DSC06372

Fronds of kelp ©Jackie Hildering

Yes, that’s right – marine algae; the plant-like material of our oceans that ranges in size from the phytoplankton that give the NE Pacific Ocean its emerald colour and soupy richness, to the giant kelp species that provide habitat as ocean forests.

Breathe in.  A conservative 70% of the life-sustaining oxygen in that breath came from marine algae.

These organisms are also attempting to scrub away the devastating impacts of our fossil fuel addiction, photosynthesizing carbon dioxide into oxygen and serving as carbon sinks.

Bull Kelp Forest

One of the images that started it all. ©Jackie Hildering

Life on earth simply could not survive without marine algae and this conclusion is valid even without considering their role as the basis of ocean food webs (and recognize that an estimated 50% of all species on earth are marine).

Why then, while we seem to have some understanding of how dependent we are on the terrestrial plants living up here with us, do so many of us appear to be ignorant of the vital importance of the marine algae that inhabit 71% of the earth’s surface?

Bull kelp forest in current © Jackie Hildering

Bull kelp forest in current ©Jackie Hildering

Why are we seemingly not as driven to save marine algae from the impacts of pollution as we are to stop deforestation? Is it that damn illusion that land is separate from sea?

Or, somewhere deep within or briny beings, do we feel a connection?

I have experience that suggests this might be the case.

It’s an accidental discovery . . . I never really planned to become an underwater photographer. Having the great privilege of living in this beautiful place, initially I focused largely (quite literally) on photographing big marine mammals. I was using charismatic megafauna to try to inspire conservation.

 © Jackie Hildering

©Jackie Hildering

But then  . . . I was gifted an underwater camera and quite early on, I started photographing kelp.

For me, kelp is the entry point into the marine world into which I love to disappear and its beauty has long intoxicated me. In fact, I have a kelp forest tattooed on my lower left leg!

But never, ever could I have anticipated the way the images would be received by non-divers. They have proven to be vital tools in “taking” people underwater with me and I believe no whale image I have taken has done as much to engage, create wonder, appreciation and, hopefully, respect and positive action for what lies below the surface.

© 2012 Jackie Hildering-5121314

Sun streaming through bull kelp forest ©Jackie Hildering

Why are these images received as they are?  Many answers are possible from a pure aesthetic appreciation of kelp’s form and colour to the fact that kelp forests are literally at the surface, recognizable but submerged in mystery.

But, maybe, just maybe there’s a deep connection born out of knowing that we are dependent on marine algae for every breath we take.

And that – gives me hope.

For more kelp images, please click here for my gallery.

Note: Seaweeds, kelp and phytoplankton photosynthesize but are (most often) not classified as plants. They are algae. For an explanation of the classification, distinction and scientific debate, see:  “The Seaweed Site – “What are algae?” 

Below the Kelp

It’s the day before summer begins and  . . . what a day it was.

Bull kelp forest, housing an extraordinary amount and diversity of life.

We had radiant sunshine and a flat-calm ocean during our dive today.

I can think of no better way to share the beauty and wonder of today’s adventure than to take you below the kelp with me.

Please see today’s images at link below. I have included captions that provide a bit of information about the species we were so fortunate to see.

Come below the kelp – by clicking here.

Hooded mystery #2 – Hooded nudibranch swimming

See last week’s posting for Part 1 on the hooded nudibranch (Melibe leonina).

Hooded nudibranchs (up to 10 cm) on giant kelp.

This week, I share video showing this remarkable sea slug when it is swimming. 

When viewing the clip, try to identify the animal’s “rhinophores”, the structures coming off the animal’s head that allow it to smell its way around. These structures have the shape of mouse ears but they pick up on chemical signals, not sound.  In last week’s posting I shared how the hooded nudibranchs come together to mate through being attracted by smell (pheromones).

The lobed structures on the animal’s back are the naked (nudi) gills (branchs). They can detach if the hooded nudibranch is threatened and are sticky. Maybe this is so that the predator is distracted by the gills sticking to it allowing the hooded nudibranch to have a greater chance of getting away.

I have included a second clip this week too, taken on today’s dive. No hooded nudibranchs in it, but bull kelp forest visions while on my “safety stop”; a 3-minute rest at 15 feet to offload nitrogen before surfacing. Thought you might like to take a dip with me!

Click here for video of a hooded nudibranch swimming.

Click here for kelp forest video from today’s dive.


Journey Through Kelp (Video)

Baby bull kelp

Baby bull kelp

Bull kelp is so beautiful, especially now in the early spring when the young “sporophyte” stage is growing at an insanely fast rate. This kelp species, Nereocystis luetkeana, can grow to be 36 m long, and can apparently shoot up at a rate of up to 60 cm a day.

It is at this early stage of growth too that bull kelp is an intense colour green unlike anything else I know. When older, the colour darkens to an olive green. 

Kelp is an alga, not a plant but, like plants, algae also photosynthesize, converting the sun’s energy into food. However algae have simpler structures and different chemical pathways.

Young bull kelp grows so fast to allow the leaf-like parts, called “fronds”, to be closer to the sun so that more food can be made.  

Kelp forest

Sun streaming through bull kelp forest

The round, floating part of the kelp, is the “pneumatocyst”. This bladder-like structure is completely hollow and is filled with carbon monoxide (NOT carbon dioxide), allowing the long fronds to drift at the surface to catch the sun’s rays. 

Apparently, there is enough carbon monoxide in bull kelp to kill a chicken! Now that’s valuable information.

The stem-like part is called the “stipe” and it is also hollow.  I’m sure it is not what Nature had intended, but this allows we humans to play the stipe of bull kelp like a trumpet or didgeridoo!

Bull kelp does not have roots. Rather a “holdfast”, a tangle of  woody structures, anchors bull kelp onto rocks. However, if rocks are too light to counter the floatation of the pneumatocyst, the kelp will actually change the ocean bottom by carrying away smaller rocks, likely ending up washed onto the shore. 

Bull kelp holdfast. No roots.

Bull kelp holdfast. No roots.

The stipe gets thinner and whip-like near the holdfast which is why bull kelp likely got its name; because the stipe is shaped like a “bull whip”.

And bull kelp always grows in patches, truly forming an underwater forest that is life-giving for the same reasons as terrestrial forests: kelp forests buffer the climate change gas carbon dioxide; produce oxygen; and provide food and habitat for so many other organisms. Bull kelp forests are, in fact, estimated to provide habitat for some 750 species of fish and invertebrates (animals without backbones).

Sea urchins are one of those invertebrates, living in the forest and grazing on a lot of bull kelp. If otters, mink, wolf eels and other predators of urchins did not keep urchins in check, there would be further reduced kelp forests. 

Kelp forests are not what they used to be for reasons far beyond our foolishness in over-harvesting sea otters. There used to be such dense forests that it is theorized “Ancient humans from Asia may have entered the Americas following an ocean highway made of dense kelp.

All coastal boaters still benefit from kelp. It is a navigational aid since, where it grows, you know you there is shallower water.

We divers have yet an additional reason to value kelp.  Since it is so strong,  we can hold onto it if we need to during our safety stop (3 minutes at 5 metres depth) or if needing to gradually pull ourselves down into the depths or back to the surface.   

Oh – and you can eat it. (I love pickled young bull kelp!) 

And yes, you could do puppet shows with bull kelp, cutting a face into the bladder like you would into a jack-o-lantern. The fronds even look like two pig-tails! 

There will be more on bull kelp here in the future. Wait till you find out how bull kelp reproduces! The “alternation of generations” is mind-blowing with the offspring look nothing like the adults. 

But for now, come underwater with me. Come into the forest, breath in, breath out and worship the kelp!

Click this link for images of bull kelp from the fronds down to the holdfast.

For more on the natural history of bull kelp see this link.

For more information on algae – click here for the blog “Every Breath You Take  . . .”