Sea Spotlight: California Kelp Forests

Whale Watching Season in Southern California
  Uncovering the Coolest Giant Pacific Octopus Facts

What is a kelp forest? What’s a California kelp forest? And is the California kelp forest dying? Our team at Harbor Breeze Cruises will answer all three questions in this blog post!

         Our business exists not only because we want to give you the opportunity to try to spot whales and other marine animals in their natural habitats but also because we believe in the importance of educating our guests and being environmental stewards. Kelp, is a type of seaweed that’s instrumental in maintaining the health of the entire marine ecosystem. Allow us to explain why.

What Is a Kelp Forest?

         According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Kelp forests can be seen along much of the west coast of North America. Kelp are large brown algae living in cool, relatively shallow waters near the shore. They grow in dense groupings, much like a forest on land. These underwater towers of kelp provide food and shelter for thousands of fish, invertebrates, and marine mammal species. Kelp forests harbor a greater variety and higher diversity of plants and animals than almost any other ocean community. Many organisms use the thick blades to protect their young from predators or rough storms.”

         NOAA further notes that seals, sea lions, whales, sea otters, gulls, terns, snowy egrets, great blue herons, cormorants, and shore birds rely on kelp forests for protection or feeding. Without kelp forests, all these incredible creatures would have a much more difficult time finding food and shelter, which could lead to a drastic decline in their populations.

What’s a California Kelp Forest?

         If you haven’t already guessed, a California kelp forest is a kelp forest that exists in the state of California. Kelp forests grow along the California coastline, and according to an article published by Monterey Bay Aquarium, these giant underwater forests can grow up to 175 feet over the ocean floor! Their article shares that, fascinatingly, “giant kelp has no true roots, stems, leaves or flowers. A single frond can live for more than six months. Giant kelp grows best in areas with rocky bottoms, plenty of light, and enough water motion to keep nutrients circulating around the plant.”

Is the California Kelp Forest Dying?

         Since kelp forests don’t tend to grow in deep waters, this puts them in close proximity to our state’s shores. While our team at Harbor Breeze Cruises does our best to minimize our environmental impact—and encourages our guests to do the same—it would be remiss to think that the California kelp forest isn’t in danger. Unfortunately, kelp forests are susceptible to experiencing the detrimental effects of pollution. Agricultural runoff, urban wastewater, storm drains, sludge, silt, and sewage continue to damage kelp populations. Though kelp grows impressively fast, it can be displaced by invasive algae, and its density can decrease when it encounters external threats.

         An article published in May 2023 by The Nature Conservancy titled “The Vanishing Forest” details one of the biggest threats against the California kelp forest: native purple urchins that won’t stop devouring the kelp, eating everything from the base to the blades. The article (well worth reading if you have the time!) states, “In temperate oceans across the globe, kelp forests are in decline because of warming waters, overharvesting and overgrazing by local predators, but they’re on the verge of collapse in Northern California, where only a few strongholds remain. Through ongoing surveys using satellite, drone, and piloted aircraft imagery, TNC has found that in the past 10 years, 96% of kelp forests in the region have disappeared. It’s an ecological disaster: From San Francisco to Oregon, nearly all that remains of one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth is an underwater wasteland—and exploding populations of spiny sea creatures with a taste for brown algae are a big part of the problem.”

         The article describes purple sea urchins as “ravenous” and notes that “without a top predator to keep them in check, they do what any animal would: they eat until there’s nothing left.” Their population increase and overwhelming insatiability have many researchers trying to determine how to save kelp forests, including those in our home state of California. One fantastic idea is to support sea otter conservation because they eat sea urchins. If you’re interested in helping California’s kelp forest thrive, we encourage you to visit the kelp forest webpage published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife; the bottom of the page lists actionable steps you can take to play a role in the kelp forest’s survival.

Harbor Breeze Cruises: A Great Way to Keep Learning

         This blog answered three questions: “What is a kelp forest?” “What is a California kelp forest?” and “Is the California kelp forest dying?”

         We have a question for you: Are you interested in joining us for a cruise to learn more about kelp forests and the sea creatures that rely on these massive underwater canopies and interact with our educators from the Aquarium of the Pacific? While our friendly crew takes you on an exciting cruise, you can ask our Aquarium of the Pacific educators any questions you may have about kelp forests, the California coastline, and more; they are knowledgeable and passionate about the sea and its inhabitants and they’re always happy to share what they know.

         If you’d like to join us for a cruise, purchase tickets online or call us at 562-983-6880 to make your reservation. We’d be delighted to welcome you aboard one of our comfortable, eco-friendly catamarans. Bring your questions, bring your camera, and bring your sense of adventure!

Buy Tickets