Photo: Kelp forests and seagrasses

Kelp provide a base food source for animals like sea urchins. (Credit: John Rix)

Welcome to the kelp forest and seagrasses page of the 'I Am Fish' tour. These three guiding words, I am fish, appear simple. But they reflect an ancient and extraordinary web of biological activity that connects humans with the ocean.

I am kelp

The near shore areas of the Canada's Pacific coastal waters are fringed with species-rich kelp forests and seagrass beds. Kelp provide a base food source for animals like sea urchins and a place to live for many fish and invertebrates such as kelp crabs. They also help buffer the energy of waves, allowing small larval fish to thrive under its protection.

The kelp forest is a highly diverse and productive environment. A single kelp plant may have over 10,000 individual snails, crabs and other invertebrates living on it, hundreds of fish swimming around it, and thousands more animals on the seafloor below it. These animals eventually become food for larger fish species including those captured in commercial fisheries.

Scientists have found ways to track the carbon in a kelp forest through the food web. As much as 60 per cent of the carbon found in some juvenile rockfish species can be traced to kelp forests those fish fed on. Herring, one of the most important fish in Canada's coastal ecosystem, deposit their eggs on kelp and other marine plants. Eelgrasses found in the estuaries along the Pacific coast provide critical nurseries for juvenile salmon and foraging habitat for millions of migrating shorebirds.

Why are kelp and seagrasses important to humans?

Kelp is often valued for its use in toothpaste and ice cream, which contain a kelp-derived compound called algin. On Canada's North Pacific Coast, however, kelp is mostly harvested by the herring 'roe on kelp' fishery. Here, the plant is placed inside cages of captured herring that deposit their eggs on them. The main value of kelp and seagrasses, however, are their "ecosystem service" role in providing habitat, shoreline protection and nutrition to hundreds of species.

What can we do to protect them?

Kelp forests and other marine plants such as eelgrass only occupy a small amount of area but are extremely important to many species. Eelgrasses are particularly vulnerable to human activities as these plants are found in estuarine habitats that are often dredged, built upon, or receive high sediment loads from upstream land based activities such as logging. Integrated ocean management needs to be properly developed to help ensure that the ecosystem values of habitats like kelp and seagrass are considered in coastal planning".

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