Weekly column by Barbara Hirsch
Those of us who do ocean sports here and elsewhere are intimately familiar with kelp, the fly gathering mounds of it on the beach, becoming entangled in it in the water, but also its sheer graceful beauty. When the water is clear, looking down into a kelp forest is like glimpsing a fairytale world, evoking the magical experience of snorkeling.
I gratefully watched kelp harvesting one day while paddling, a ship with a giant rake pulling the kelp vines off the surface and to a conveyor belt leading to huge piles of it. This was an area that we paddlers usually avoid as it is so thick with the stuff. I had no idea then of the value kelp forest ecosystems held for the planet and us, though, or that what I saw was harvesting being done in an ecologically acceptable way. New growth happens quickly if the plants are skimmed from the surface, not yanked from the ocean floor.
Kelp has been harvested for ages, for use in gunpowder (!), fertilizer, food thickening agents and in the cosmetics industry, algin being a key ingredient extracted for some of these products. It has tremendous economic value to us, is also highly nutritional as a food, chock full of easily absorbed minerals, trace minerals and other nutrients, and as a plant food. Kelp powder is popular among organic farmers.
The environmental value of kelp forests is becoming more evident, their being home to all kinds of sea creatures, including shellfish which act as filters for our agricultural runoff that has been so damaging to ocean ecosystems. Check out this cool video on one fisherman’s transformation, work and success in showing us the super vegetable status of this sea weed. We may be eating lots more of it, soon!