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There's an underwater wonderland off the coast of California. It's a forest, but it's not full of trees. Instead, it's made up of seaweed! These forest plants (see photos) are giant kelp, a type of algae (AL-jee).

Giant kelp--and other types of forest-forming kelps--grow in cool coastal waters where sunlight can filter down to a rocky sea floor. (Map on page 27 shows where in the world kelp forests are found.) The kelp needs sunshine in order to grow. And it needs a hard surface--not sand--to grow on.

Giant kelp is one of the world's fastest-growing plants. It can grow as much as 300 feet (100 m) in a single year. When the tops reach the surface, they keep on growing to form a floating mat. If you could hold a plant straight up, it might stretch as high as a 30-story building!

Like a forest on land, a kelp forest is full of life. The brilliantly colored kelp crab in the photo at left is just one of hundreds of different animals that live there. Turn the page to meet some more kelp characters.



A kelp forest is a lot like a huge apartment building. You'll find that there's something living on every level, from the rocky "basement" all the way up to the floating "top floor."

Lobsters and sea stars are some of the creatures that hang out at "rock bottom." In the middle layer, shrimp and snails inch their way along the swaying plants. Different kinds of fish swim around in this layer too. Among the floating kelp tops at the water's surface, you might find sea birds and young fish.

For thousands of sea creatures, a kelp forest means food and a place to hide from enemies. It's also a place to find a mate and have young.

Business is booming at this seaweed snack bar (left). Are these fish eating the kelp? No, they're feasting on tiny animals--such as those shown above--that hang out on the plants.

The giant kelpfish below can change color to match kelp. And its flat body is shaped like the "leafy" part of the plant. When the fish sways gently in the water like the kelp, it seems to disappear.

A kelp plant's rootlike holdfast forms a tiny, tangled neighborhood on the sea floor. The bottom photo shows a small octopus sharing its holdfast home with some red, bristly brittle stars.



Leaflike part that takes in sunlight to make food. From the water it also takes in minerals that help the plant grow.


Air-filled bubble at the base of each blade. Floats help the plant bob up toward the sunlight.


A "stem" that the blades grow from. A stipe and blades together make up a frond.


Rootlike tangle that anchors the kelp plant to the ocean floor.



A kelp forest is more than just a great place to live. It's a welcome spot for many outside guests too. Different kinds of jellyfish drift through. Schools of silvery fish come to feed. Even sea mammals such as whales, sea lions, and harbor seals like this one (above) may dart in to check out what's happening.

Some large hunters regularly patrol the kelp forest in search of a meal. For example, there's a good chance the blue shark at left will be able to grab a bite there. Hurry up, silly seal--hide in the kelp. Don't become this shark's lunch!



Several things can cause trouble for kelp forests. One is the purple sea urchin. Look at these urchins munching away at the base of a kelp plant (right). Once the urchins chew their way through, the plant will float up to the water's surface, drift away, and die.

Good thing that sea otters think urchins are a taste treat! (below) By eating their fill, sea otters help keep the number of urchins down. Without hungry otters around, what might a kelp forest be like? GONE! (right)

Storms can tear up a kelp forest pretty badly too. But afterward, the plants usually recover quickly.

Pollution is another problem for kelp and kelp-forest animals. People can help by not "trashing" the Earth's air and oceans.

Like a coral reef or tropical rainforest, a kelp forest is home to loads of living things. Let's hope this wonderful wet wilderness sticks around for a long, long time.
COPYRIGHT 1996 National Wildlife Federation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:photos and essay on kelp beds and the animals that live in them
Author:Lambeth, Ellen
Publication:Ranger Rick
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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