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Oregon Family Magazine

Kelp: The Forests of the Sea

12/07/2023 ● By Becky Raines
Imagine you are standing on the Oregon beach. You hear the seagulls honking above you and feel cold sand squishing between your toes. Rocks, both large and small, are sprinkled around the shoreline like chocolate chips in a cookie.

Now you’re swimming out into the ocean. The water is chilly, biting at your skin. The waves are rough. You begin to feel slimy leaves against your body. On top of the waves float green bulbs the size of baseballs. Above you, cormorants and seagulls are flying, occasionally dipping down to search for food.

You have reached a kelp forest. Kelp forests are areas of the ocean dense with a macroalgae called kelp. In Oregon, our forests are full of a species called bull kelp. Bull kelp reaches from the bottom of the ocean, where holdfasts anchor them to a rock, all the way to the surface, where their floats keep them near the light. Bull kelp can grow up to 100 feet tall!

Kelp forests teem with life. On the seafloor, Giant Pacific octopuses, sea stars, and urchins crawl amongst the holdfasts. In the ocean waters, rockfish weave in and out of the kelp’s stipes and Pacific herring lay their eggs on the blades. On the surface, sea lions and grey whales hunt shrimp and fish, looking for food hidden by the kelp. Above the waters, cormorants and puffins fly, diving down to eat small fish that collect amongst the floats.

Oregon has lots of vibrant forests—we can walk under towering trees, watch squirrels scamper and salamanders run, and listen to birds and insects chirp. It’s harder for us to explore Oregon’s underwater forests, filled with sea creatures and kelp. Next time you’re at the beach, see if you can spot the patches of dark green that mark the kelp floats on top of the waves. Imagine the waters underneath, filled with life!