Activism

Published on August 3rd, 2009 | by Daniel Hohler

Killer Kelp

Killer Kelp

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When I was doing research on Catalina Island, there was a wanted poster hanging in the dive locker. Although, this wanted poster was not for any bank robber or bandit. This was a wanted poster for kelp. Undaria pinnatifida, an invasive species from Asia that has hitched a ride on boat’s hulls and ballast water. Also known as wakame, you may know that name as an ingredient in many Asian dishes or miso soup.

Wakame has become a large problem from New Zealand to Monterey Bay. It is an aggressive and costly intruder that takes over a habitat at the expensive of the native species. Since its discovery in San Francisco Bay, 140 lbs of the kelp have been removed from the San Francisco Marina alone. Wakame’s destructive nature has earned it a spot on the 100 of the Worlds Worst Invasive Species list.

“It’s just like gardening, you can pull out all the weeds you want, but there will always be that little dandelion seed that will sprout and recolonize” – Steve Lonhart, senior scientist at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Every year, marine invasive species cost the United States $9 billion dollars to control. Wakame is destructive to native kelp, marinas and the undersides of boats, and damages mariculture like oyster farming. The problem of invasive species hurts our wallets besides our environment, but money to fight invasive species is hard to come by. Especially in places like California, a state that has just announced record budget cuts.

“When there is a big wildfire, no one stops and asks, ‘Who is going to pay for this?’ They just fight the fire, We don’t have that kind of automatic response with invasive species.” – Lars Anderson, a lead scientist with the United States Agriculture Department


To control this killer kelp, nonprofit groups and state and federal agencies have been pooling resources and volunteers, donning scuba and snorkeling equipment. Volunteers have been pulling the kelp out by hand and filling up black plastic trash bags.

Invasive species are a huge problem for the environment that most people don’t know about. People look and they see a plant or animal and they assume it should just be there. I encourage everyone to take the time and get to know the native species in your area. If you are going to plant a garden, plant species native to your area. If you are going to travel long distances, try your best to make sure you have no stowaways. We want to keep the wide variety of amazing plants and animals, located in many different habitats, alive and healthy.

-Source: The New York Times

-Image Credit: s0uto on Flickr


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About the Author

Daniel is a graduate of University of Southern California with a degree in Biology and Anthropology. He attended Wrigley Institute of Environmental Studies located on Catalina Island where he did environmental research and marine biology. Daniel has also spent time studying primate social behavior. He currently attends medical school at PCOM-GA. You may contact Daniel on his website http://www.danielhohler.com or on twitter @danielhohler.



  • Adee

    Almost three years ago, a Mr. Bob Henry posted some very reasonable questions about investigating how kelp could be used. Has anything been done since then?

  • Adee

    Why aren’t there any companies out there harvesting the stuff for food, fertilizer, snack foods? If the kelp were gold, they would find a way. We need the iodine and other nutrients in kelp, especially if we are being bombarded with radioactivity from Fukushima. If the fertilizer companies harvested it and agribusiness plowed it into the ground, the kelp wouldn’t survive in the soil and we would all be enriched. Even water or sunlight can be a threat if we don’t know how to use it. There has to be someone out there who has the proper connections and knows how to make it happen. We should look at this wakame invasion as a gift of “green gold.”

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