The Brackish Aquariumin General

California Kelp Forests


Kelp forests are the most dominant life form of the California coast. They are located off of the California coast because of the cold water. Kelp forests can only grow in cold water because unlike in warmer, tropical waters, there is an abundance of nutrients here that fuels the growth of theses massive plants.

These nutrients thrive in the cold water and are commonly known as plankton. There are two types of plankton: phytoplankton and zooplankton. Phytoplankton are small plant life forms that feed off of the sunlight while zooplankton feed off of the phytoplankton. Plankton is the foundation of the temperate water food chain and is a seasonal occurrence. The dense bloom of the plankton in the spring time is what causes the water to become a greenish color. Plankton however soon die out and the water returns to its normal blue gray color. In the winter months the Pacific Ocean is stirred up by storms which bring nutrients from the bottom of the ocean to the surface and in the springtime the ocean is once again ready for the annual bloom of the plankton.

The animals that dwell in the kelp forests range from large vertebrate animals such as seals to small invertebrate planktonic animals. Some species of fish swarm these kelp forests in dense schools feasting on the abundant sources of food while other more solitary like fish browse for food and meander through the swaying kelp. Small vertebrate crustaceans such as crabs scurry on the seafloor picking up the scraps of food while other crabs comb the fronds of seaweed for food. In kelp forests you can find hermit crabs walking clumsily along the sea floor always on the search for a bigger or better shell. Vibrantly colored animals such as nudibranchs make themselves at home in these dense forests feasting on snails and other mollusks. Also there are a wide range of sessile invertebrates that cover the sea floor. Sponges cover theses surfaces and feed by filtering the water. Anemones crowd for places where there is a current that brings food to there tentacles while corals and barnacles filter the water for nutrients. Seals and sea otters inhabit these forests feasting on fish and urchins. There is a wide and diverse amount of animal life in kelp forests.

Kelp forests come in all shape and size. Some grow in dense tall forests with the dominant macro-algae being Giant Kelp, while others grow wide with less of the Giant Kelp. It all depends on the depth of the water. The current of the water also affects the growth. Some species of kelp are seasonal while other species of kelp can live for six years. But the same applies to all kelp no matter what size or shape: every kelp plant has an anchor by which it is held to the sea floor.

Since anchors can only attach to hard rock surfaces kelp forests are not found in sandy areas. Anchors are knotted and tangled like “roots” of the kelp. These anchors can be swarming with life. Deep inside the chambers of the roots lie copepods and amphipods, small crustacean like creatures. While on the surface of the anchor sponges, polyps, and anemones place themselves in dense congregations. These anchors are relatively small compared to the size of the kelp and in harsh weather they can be uprooted causing the kelp to wash up on the shore.

Kelp can also be used for a commercial use. Some people harvest the kelp for food putting it in ice cream and other dishes such as sushi. While others use kelp as fertilizer. During World War ll large amounts of kelp were harvested. There is also commercial fish and lobster harvesting in the vicinity of kelp forests. However due to conservation efforts sustainable ways of harvesting kelp and the regions inhabitants have been put in order and there are now laws the protect kelp forests and their creatures.


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