Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘kelp’

Otters!

1374

Photo: Isabelle Groc
Historical records show that otters were once abundant in California’s estuaries. Now they’re back — and bringing surprising benefits.

This is a story about America’s smallest marine mammals and how they are improving ecosystems.

Isabelle Groc reports at the Guardian, “When Brent Hughes started studying the seagrass beds of Elkhorn Slough, an estuary in Monterey Bay on California’s central coast, he was surprised by what he found. In this highly polluted estuary, excessive nutrients from agricultural runoff spur the growth of algae on seagrass leaves, which kills the plants. Yet in 2010, Hughes noticed that the seagrass beds were thriving. It did not make sense. …

“Hughes [a biologist at Sonoma State University] examined every possible factor, including water quality, temperature and changes in seagrass coverage over time, going back 50 years. He was not making any progress until he was approached by a boat captain named Yohn Gideon who had been running wildlife tours in the slough since 1995. Over the years, the captain had handed clickers to his passengers, asking them to count the sea otters they saw.

Hughes overlaid the captain’s sea otter counts with historical seagrass coverage data and realised the two graphs were almost perfectly in sync. When sea otter numbers went up, seagrass went up, too.

“ ‘You don’t see that very often in ecology. That was a eureka moment.’ …

“Sea otters may be North America’s smallest marine mammal, but they have a huge appetite. … When the otters first moved into the slough in the 1980s, they put their big appetites to work eating crabs. With fewer crabs to prey on them, the California sea hares – a sea slug – grew larger and became more abundant. The slugs fed on the algae growing on the seagrass, leaving the leaves healthy and clean. …

“Since the otters arrived in the slough, the seagrass has recovered and increased by more than 600% in the past three decades.

“Sea otters had already shown that they were capable of a large influence on the ecosystem. In the 1970s, biologist James Estes was conducting research in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and noticed some areas where the seafloor was covered with sea urchins. As herbivores, urchins feed on kelp, and when their numbers are not kept in check by predators, no kelp remains. In contrast, in places where sea otters were present, kelp forests were thriving. …

“But the discovery that sea otters could also be important players in estuaries came as an ecological surprise. In fact, scientists had not even expected sea otters to survive in an estuary. … Since the otters were first recovering in kelp forests along the open coast, the scientists who studied the animals assumed that this was their primary habitat. When they started turning up in Elkhorn Slough in the 1980s, they thought that was an anomaly, failing to realise that they were in fact reoccupying old habitats. …

“Estuaries were not even considered in the US fish and wildlife service’s plan for the recovery of the sea otter in California, listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. … In the past decade, the expansion of sea otters on the California coast has been curbed unexpectedly by the presence of the great white sharks. …

“Estuaries could provide otters with an important refuge from sharks and other unfavourable coast conditions, such as storms and warming events. …

“ ‘Once fully recovered, between a quarter and one third of the entire population in California could be accounted for by otters living in estuaries,’ [Tim Tinker, a wildlife biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz,] says. …

“However, the benefits are not felt equally, especially among indigenous communities who rely on shellfish harvesting for food security.

“ ‘Sea otter recovery is different from the recovery of any other species because they have such disproportionally big effects on the ecosystem,’ Tinker says. ‘For most depleted species you are just worried about the conservation of the species but with sea otters, you are thinking how the entire ecosystem is going to change when they recover.’ ”

More.

Hat tip: Earle.

Read Full Post »

wpdms_ev26188_fishers_island

Fishers Island is located at the eastern end of Long Island Sound. Long a summer enclave for the wealthy, it may soon become known for a seaweed farm in Fishers Island Sound.

When my three-year-old grandchild was upset because the seaweed snacks were all gone, I knew the world had changed. Seaweed snacks? Yes, indeed. Seaweed has become big in the US. It’s not considered an exotic food anymore.

At the Connecticut newspaper the Day, Joe Wojtas wrote recently about one of the many entrepreneurs moving into seaweed.

“A local man is seeking approval from state and local agencies to run a sugar kelp farm in Fishers Island Sound about one mile southeast of Enders Island.

“Thomas Cooke of LionMind Ventures LLC is seeking a permit from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to install up to 10 long lines, each 500 feet long and anchored at each end and in the middle. The kelp seeds are embedded in the ropes when they are put out in the water and then harvested six months later after the plants have grown to 12 feet or more. Cooke said the work will begin in late October and end in May, which means it will not occur during the busy recreational boating season in Fishers Island Sound. …

“Cooke, who now lives on Masons Island and is an attorney, director for a professional choral group and the former Simsbury town administrator, … said he learned about kelp farming a few years ago, when he heard a program on the popular TED Talks series about a New Haven-based organization called Greenwave and its executive director, Bren Smith, who farms kelp in the Sound.

“ ‘It’s really good for the Sound,’ Cooke said about kelp farming. ‘It removes nitrogen and carbon dioxide and leaves a much healthier body of water.’ …

“The uses for nutrient-filled kelp include food — growers like to call it sea greens and not seaweed — cosmetics and fertilizers, just to name a few. Cooke said Greenwave works with kelp farmers to provide seed, find buyers and provide technical advice.

Everyone says it’s the new kale but I think it tastes better,’ he said.

More at the Day, here. I blogged about a Rhode Island kelp farmer here.

Photo: NOAA Fisheries
Here’s what sugar kelp looks like. There are different kinds of kelp, but this is the kind mentioned in the story.

1280_18l2o3dcg8gp

Read Full Post »

Photo: Bob Plain

I do love the inventiveness of entrepreneurs. A friend of Suzanne and Erik’s is an inventive entrepreneur — an oyster entrepreneur, to be specific. Since oysters are a seasonal crop, he looked for something that might become his winter crop.

Bob Plain’s Narragansett Bay Blog has the story on Jules Opton-Himmel, RI’s first kelp farmer.

“Kelp, you may or may not have heard, is the next super food. It’s nutritious, sustainable and ecologically beneficial,” writes Plain.

He continues with a quote from a recent New Yorker article by Dana Goodyear: ” ‘Seaweed, which requires neither fresh water nor fertilizer, is one of the world’s most sustainable and nutritious crops. It absorbs dissolved nitrogen, phosphorous, and carbon dioxide directly from the sea — its footprint is negative — and proliferates at a terrific rate.’ …

“Coincidentally – and quite auspiciously – just as the blockbuster New Yorker article hit the newsstands, Opton-Himmel was gearing up to introduce kelp farming to Rhode Island. …

“Farm-raised kelp is grown on a longline – a submersible thick rope, held in place by anchors and buoys, that is used to hold in place seafood harvesting equipment. A thin string of kelp spores is wrapped around the longline, and the kelp grows toward the bottom. Opton-Himmel, with the help of Scott Lindell and David Bailey from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass, planted 1,000 feet. …

“Unlike oysters, which grow in the warmer months, kelp only grows when it’s cold. That means it could prove an off-season bumper crop for otherwise summertime-only seafood harvesters. Walrus and Carpenter downsizes from 7 to 3 employees in the winter, Opton-Himmel said, and kelp could help him keep the other four on the payroll all year long.

“ ‘I’d love to keep all 6 on year-round,’ Opton-Himmel said.”

More here.

Read Full Post »

The radio show Living on Earth (LOE) reported recently on work to restore seaweeds that are a key part of the ecosystem.

From the LOE website: “Ripped from the seafloor by strong swells, massive amounts of kelp recently washed ashore in southern California. But the uprooted algae may actually be a sign of successful kelp restoration efforts. Marine biologist Nancy Caruso discusses the fragile ecosystem and how she and a community are helping to rebuild the majestic kelp forests.”

Radio host Steve Curwood interviewed Caruso. She recounts how she began 12 years ago with a group of students and volunteers “to restore the kelp forests off of Orange County’s coast.”

After a storm, she says, big holes get ripped in the forest of kelp, often 10 feet high. Then “new life can grow from the bottom up, and so if we see this happen, which we’re seeing right now, the kelp returns immediately after this event, then we know that our restoration efforts are successful, and after 30 years of our local ecosystem not having healthy kelp forests, we can rest assured that it’s now restored.”

To Curwood’s question about how restoration is done, Caruso answers, “It was actually quite an effort because I had the help of 5,000 students from ages 11 to 18 as well as 250 skilled volunteer divers, and we planted this kelp in 15 different areas in Orange County. There’s a spot down in Dana Point. It’s the only kelp forest that was left in Orange County so we would collect the reproductive blades from those kelp plants, and I would take them into the classrooms for the students to clean them and we would actually stress them out overnight. We would leave them out of water in the refrigerator, kind covered with paper towels, and then the next morning we would put them back in the ice-cold seawater and the kelp blade would release millions of spores” that would then be raised in nurseries and returned to the ocean.

“All those animals that get washed up on the beach inside the wrangled tangled kelp become a food source for shorebirds that live along our coast.”

More from Living on Earth here. For more on the importance of seaweed, see also Derrick Z. Jackson’s article in the Boston Sunday Globe: “Eelgrass Could Save the Planet.”

Photo: NOAA’s National Ocean Service
Kelp forests can be seen along much of the west coast of North America.

Read Full Post »

Someone has finally recognized seaweed for the artistic creation it is.

That someone is Josie Iselin, whose book An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed was reviewed by Dana Jennings in the NY Times Science section Tuesday.

Jennings begins, “The secret to finding unsuspected beauty, artists and naturalists will tell you, is in knowing how to slow down and really look. The writer and photographer Josie Iselin certainly knows how to do that, as she shows in her beguiling new book, An Ocean Garden.

“In her introduction Ms. Iselin … writes, ‘I fell in love with seaweed at the kitchen counter.’ (She would bring back samples and study them there.) And it vexes her that others don’t share in her tidal pool crush. …

“The 100 color photographs here, though, just might convince some people …  The book focuses on seaweeds found in Maine and California, both states she has lived in; the species names tickle the tongue in the same way that the seaweeds themselves can tingle bare feet: knotweed and bladderwrack, bull kelp and green scrap, pepper dulse and sugar kelp, Turkish towel and Irish moss.” Read more about the book, here.

We’re headed to the beach this weekend with John and his little ones. Maybe we will be able to identify some seaweeds there.

Photos: Josie Iselin
Clockwise from top left, seaweeds from Josie Iselin’s new book: Macrocystis, Ulva lobata, Calliarthron tuberculosum, Egregia menziesii, Gloiosiphonia verticillaris and coralline algae.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: