Secrets of Seaweed

Finding Beauty in Seaweed

Ocean Garden Book Cover | ©2014 Josie Iselin

Many photographers and artists find inspiration in the bright colors and delicate structure of the types of flowers you might find in bouquets or table centerpieces. Josie Iselin’s latest work was sparked by a passion for the misfits of the plant world: seaweed, also known as macroalgae or kelp. An artist, writer, devoted beachcomber and amateur algae scientist, Iselin has created seven books on forms in nature, the most recent titled “An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed.”

The pages of the book are splashed with breathtaking images of more than 200 algae specimens Iselin collected from tidal pools along the California and Maine coasts. And if you think seaweed only comes in two hues—muddy brown and sickly green—prepare to be shocked. Algae on the Pacific coast can range in color from reds and magentas to iridescent blues. Iselin beautifully captures the intensity of these colors—and the fascinating forms algae takes—through the use of a flatbed scanner. According to Iselin, it picks up the translucent qualities and true color that a regular SLR or point-and-shoot camera can’t.

Ulva lobata, Stone Beach, San Mateo, CA | ©2014 Josie Iselin

The book’s imagery is complemented by Iselin’s writing, which includes both personal observations, philosophical musings and scientific fact. Her profound passion for this ocean flora rings clear in her words: “I fell in love with seaweed at the kitchen counter,” she says. She describes the specimen names as “pure poetry” and goes so far as to state that “among the many treasure the beach has shared with me, seaweed is perhaps the greatest discovery of all.”

By revealing the unexpected beauty of seaweeds to others through her book, Iselin hopes others will be compelled to preserve them. “Seaweeds are such a holistic element to the ocean shore ecology,” Iselin says in a Q&A on the National Aquarium’s WATERblog. “They are oxygenators, create habitat and are the base of the food chain. They hold the nutrients of the ocean within them so directly. And yet they are so often ignored when describing life in the sea.”

Nereocystis luetkeana, bull kelp, Fort Funston, San Francisco, CA | ©2014 Josie Iselin

The critical role of seaweed in our ocean’s ecosystems is undeniable. They provide food for sea urchins and fish, offer protection from predators, provide shelter for larger animals and act as nurseries for many marine species. They also help clean the sea of carbon dioxide, create oxygen and prevent erosion of sea cliffs. As Iselin puts it, “seaweed and kelp are as important as the rainforests of the continents.” Chondrus crispus, Irish moss, Brimstone Island, Penobscot Bay, ME | ©2014 Josie Iselin

To learn more about Iselin’s book, “An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed,” click here. To learn more about Iselin and her other works, click here.


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