Sri Lanka is a country rich in biodiversity. Perhaps you have experienced the beauty of mountain forests, drylands, coastal areas and lagoons, and coral ecosystems. Although we have heard of world-famous rainforests such as the Amazon and the Congo, have you ever heard of the Kelp Forest, a large oceanic forest system?
This article is dedicated to sharing with you some information about the kelp forests that are hidden from our eyes. But this kelp is not a division of life that can be compared to the trees we see on land.
What is this kelp?
Kelp is a large, multicellular brown algae that grows close to the shore in cool, shallow, and nutrient-rich seawater. Although the kelp may look like an aquatic plant, it is not really a true plant. It is said that they do not have true roots, stems and tissues like the advanced terrestrial plants we often see. Scientists point out that although they have plant-like features, they are not structurally similar to plants. But researchers have shown that some algae species have evolutionary relationships with higher plants. Also, their flowers and fruits do not grow. But algae, including kelp, are involved in photosynthesis as well as plants.
Kelp algae grow on the seabed and begin to grow on the surface of the water in search of sunlight. At times, they even reach an altitude of 45 feet [45 m] below sea level in search of sunlight. Their growth rate is not as slow as that of plants. Under favorable environmental conditions, some kelp can grow up to 45 inches [45 cm] a day. This rapid growth will soon create kelp forests in the sea.
Kelp forests are considered to be marine ecosystems found outside the tropics, such as mangroves, corals, and seagrass. Kelp forests are therefore referred to as a separate marine ecosystem that does not mix with the aforementioned ecosystems. Biodiversity unique to kelp forests can be largely observed.
Kelp forests extend primarily along the coasts of coastal areas from Alaska to California, South Africa, Australia, Great Britain, and Japan.
Why are kelp forests important to the world?
In these ecosystems, seawater is largely stagnant, as large kelp populations act as a barrier and weaken tidal energy. The tranquil environment thus created has enabled the kelp forests to function as habitats for thousands of marine life. These forests provide habitat for a variety of invertebrates, fish, and other small algae species. Kelp forests are also used by some species as breeding grounds. Giant kelp that grows close to the ground allows them to easily hide from predators and complete their life cycle. Therefore, the kelp forest can be described as a nursery where many species spend their youth. However, due to the abundance of food, various species of sharks, whales and sea lions are regularly attracted to these habitats. Accordingly, a vast food chain has been created centering on this ecosystem. As a result, countries with kelp forests have the opportunity to claim a rich fishery.
Kelp forests have been commercially important to man since World War I. During World War I, large-scale deforestation occurred due to the use of kelp algae as a source of potash for ammunition. This unregulated process severely affected the marine ecosystem. But nowadays kelp is harvested from kelp forests only from the surface canopy-like layer.
The primary benefit of kelp today is the separation of a chemical called alginate. Alginate is also used as a gel in the food and toothpaste industries. In addition, kelp products are gaining popularity around the world as an ingredient in fertilizers, as a healthy food ingredient, and as an alternative energy source.
Kelp forests play an important role in preventing coastal erosion, as ocean currents slow down in the face of kelp forests. Coastal cities will then be safer, and the need for costly property protection systems and property restoration will be reduced. Kelp forests are also becoming a major tourist attraction as swimming in these magnificent ecosystems is slowly gaining popularity among divers.
Kelp forests facing many threats
However, kelp forests, like most of the world’s ecosystems, are under threat. These threats come from humans as well as natural phenomena. Kelp forests, mangroves and coral reefs are very sensitive ecosystems that tend to disappear faster. But this ecosystem also has the potential to grow back very quickly. Because of this sensitivity, kelp forests are used as an indicator to measure the intensity of adverse environmental phenomena, such as global warming and the erratic behavior of warm ocean currents.
Kelp forests are the next most endangered species due to the sea urchin. These sea urchins feed on a structure called “turbulence” that connects to the bottom of the Kelp algae. As a result, well-grown kelp giants disintegrate. Depending on the size of the sea urchin population, kelp forests may be bitten and destroyed, resulting in deserts. These wastelands are called “urchin barrens”. Although kelp forests grow rapidly to reduce the impact of iguanas under normal conditions within the ecosystem, kelp forests will not be able to manage this destruction if the predatory population of iguanas is reduced. Excessive fishing often reduces the number of predators that control sea urchins.
At the same time, this unique, highly sensitive ecosystem is being threatened day by day in the face of the problems of emitting pollutants directly into the marine environment due to human activities such as sewage, industrial effluents, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
If you want to further emphasize the importance of kelp forests, you can watch this program by Sir David Attenborough in association with the BBC.