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Thoughtful Thursday: Giant Kelp, the World's Fastest-Growing Species

Published August 23, 2012

The fastest-growing species in the world actually makes its home in the ocean: giant kelp!

The Kelp Forest exhibit at our Baltimore venue

Forests of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) are spread out along the Pacific coast from Alaska to the Southern Channel Islands; Baja, California; South America; South Africa; and Australia. Tiered like terrestrial rain forests, expansive mazes of giant kelp provide food and shelter to some of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems.

Individual strands of kelp can grow up to 2 feet per day, ultimately reaching heights of 148 feet, according to NOAA. The tops of these strands fuse together to create floating canopy beds, making an ideal home for animals like seals, sea lions, sea otters, gulls, terns, snowy egrets, and great blue herons. Underwater, kelp forests provide a great array of habitats, from the holdfasts to the surface mats, supporting thousands of invertebrate species like shrimp, crab, and brittle stars.

Much like their above-ground cousins, these rain forests of the ocean are gravely threatened by climate change. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization of Australia reports that in some cases off the coast of Tasmania, giant kelp forests, similar to those off the coast of California, have shrunk more than 95%. The threats to these ecological communities are so severe, they’ve now been categorized as endangered.

The biggest threats to these forests? Warming sea surface temperatures, invasive species, and biodiversity loss due to runoff and sedimentation. Although these magnificent underwater forests grow at extremely fast rates, they are swiftly being taken down by human impacts on the environment.

There are a few easy things you can do to help protect this amazing species!

  • Make yourself aware of what chemicals you use in your everyday life. Check for dangerous and/or harmful ingredients and, whenever possible, do not use pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that can be harmful to the environment.
  • Plant a native garden and practice sustainable gardening techniques. Click here to find out more.
  • Get involved! And inspire others to follow your lead. Click here to find out more about the Thoughtful Choices you can practice at home.
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