Wednesday May 24, 2023

The Nature Conservancy

From the rocky bluffs of Mendocino Headlands State Park, California’s North Coast appears almost postcard perfect: A salty breeze tempers the blazing sun, the sapphire sea crashes and swirls against the shoreline, and a golden retriever gallops toward the surf.

But beneath the waves, something is wrong.

Kelp forests as lush and impressive as the towering redwoods that grow farther inland once dominated these nearshore waters. A type of seaweed, kelp attaches to rocky surfaces on the ocean floor and, like trees and terrestrial plants, grows upward toward the sunlight. In fact, some experts call it “the sequoia of the sea.” It’s an appropriate nickname: Stems of bull kelp (the dominant species north of Santa Cruz County) can soar more than 100 feet high, and its canopies—the frond-like blades that tangle on the ocean surface—are visible from space.

In satellite images, kelp canopies look like dark splotches, but they represent vibrant underwater ecosystems that provide food and shelter for thousands of marine species, including fish and a raw bar’s-worth of shrimp, lobster, urchin and abalone. Because of this bounty, kelp also provides fertile and critical hunting grounds for mollusk-and-crustacean-loving seals and sea otters.

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