Diving into the world of seaweeds

Hello, friends! I’ve been a bit off the map recently, and for a good reason. I’ve been in Bamfield, the definition of west coast on Vancouver Island – a place with stunning ocean and mountain vistas, charismatic wildlife including seals, bears, and eagles, and a lack of stable wifi and cell reception.

See? Good reason! During hours I would a week ago be spending reading, writing, or sunbathing, I have been collecting specimens, completing lab analyses, and gazing at the beautiful west coast surrounding the research station. My days usually span 5:45 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and every moment of that is filled with learning (and eating).

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The still waters of the Bamfield Inlet. Picture taken around 6 am – you can’t miss a low tide!

I am taking a Biodiversity of Seaweeds class here at the research centre, and loving every second of it. Every single day I am amazed by the incredible diversity of the seaweed community here on the west coast – multitudes of species almost too overwhelming in number to fully appreciate fill every inch of seawater-sprayed stone on these beaches. I am only just beginning to scratch the surface of what the world of phycology has to offer.

Many people are indifferent towards seaweeds, or think seaweed is a nuisance, or that it’s icky. I think that seaweeds are similar to spiders – people don’t like them, but they play a crucial role in our ecosystems. Seaweeds, along with acting as a food source for herbivores such as crabs and snails, provide necessary habitats for many species, including fish.

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Thick, slippery seaweed in the low intertidal zone near Bamfield.

Seaweeds can also be incredibly useful to us humans. Seaweed is crucial food source for many people – Pyropia, for example, is what makes Nori, which is used in sushi. Basically every seaweed out there is edible (perhaps some less palatable than others).

Some seaweeds also contain polysaccharides including agar and carrageenan – these polysaccharides are used in things like toothpaste and ice cream as thickeners and stabilizers. Many things you encounter on a day-to-day basis involve seaweed in some way.

The short of it is, appreciate your seaweeds! Algae is amazingly diverse, coming in all sorts of unimaginable shapes, sizes, and colours. Kelp yourself out and dive into the world of seaweeds!

-H

 

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