Kelp comes and goes — sometimes rapidly and sometimes in long cycles — but inexorably, it comes and it goes.
Many conditions factor into the complex habitat soup that fosters or prevents kelp growth. It isn’t simple, but it does change and cycle around.
We sometimes see extensive kelp beds, and we love them because they provide such great habitat for critters throughout the food chain. Then in the span of a single violent storm, a third is literally ripped out and shoved ashore or out to sea to float as “kelp paddies,” which attract pelagic fish. Or, over a longer period of time, water temps fluctuate too much for kelp so it becomes weak and dies.
At other times, too much small stuff (plants material, algies, etc.) screens sunlight to levels too low to allow for new kelp growth. After kelp destruction, certain corals have a chance to establish themselves and block kelp colonization, until rough water knocks the corals off and gives kelp a new chance.
Some folks wonder if pollution might be a factor. Maybe. We don’t yet have enough good science here to make that determination. We also need more info on the effects of ocean acidification. Either of those potential factors, or the combined effects of both, could influence current conditions.
The relative health of our kelp beds is a very regional thing. I’m talking about small regions. For example, the kelp beds near Santa Claus Lane and Carpinteria are fairly well protected. At other places, such as the west end of Santa Cruz Island, kelp stands are routinely ripped to shreds by prevailing and periodic harsh sea conditions.
When it comes to kelp, there is one saving factor. It is, to the best of my knowledge, the fastest-growing plant in the world and regrowth is often dramatic. I’ve been told that under ideal conditions, a kelp plant can grow up to 2 feet per day. When fishing is slow on my charter boat, WaveWalker, I joke with people that what we’re really doing is just watching the kelp grow.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.