"April showers bring May flowers”.
A hopeful expression that is heard and repeated by many in Atlantic Canada as we collectively say goodbye to the winter and get excited about the summer. A lesser-known expression with similar sentiments is “When spring winds are a-blowing, kelp are actively growing”. Okay, I may have made up the expression, but the information within is true – spring is the time when most kelp grow most actively!
The term ‘kelp’ refers to a mix of brown algal species that can be recognized by their large blade (leaf-like structure), long and strong stipe (stem-like structure), and anchoring holdfast. Some examples of kelp species found in the coastal ocean around Nova Scotia are Lasagna Kelp (Saccharina latissima), Colander Kelp (Agarum clathratum), and Oarweed (Laminaria digitata). Which drawing do you think matches each kelp name?
If you guessed (from left to right), Lasagna kelp, Oarweed, and Colander kelp, you’re right! These are all kelps you’re likely to find washed up along our Nova Scotia coast, so keep an eye out for them on your next beach walk!
Kelp is one of the fastest growing seaweeds in the world and Nova Scotia kelp can reach upwards of 10 metres in length: to visualize, a standard school bus is 10 metres long. Some species around the world can grow up to 60-centimetres in a single day! Kelp grows so large and so quickly by using photosynthesis to produce sugars, just like land plants. Unlike land plants who gain nutrients through their roots, however, kelps gain their nutrients directly from the surrounding water.
Spring is a particularly wonderful time for kelp growth because these processes – photosynthesis and nutrient uptake – are working particularly well together. Photosynthesis, for one, is improved as light can reach the ocean floor largely unfiltered by suspended, blooming algae or by a canopy of larger kelp, as happens later in the summer. The availability of nutrients is also improved as wind and other upwelling-inducing events bring deep, cold, nutrient-packed water to shallow, kelp-infested waters. As they say, “When spring winds are a-blowing, kelp are actively growing”.
Tune in next time for when we explore red algae!
Learn more about one species of kelp, in Back to the Sea Society’s Lasagna Kelp (Saccharina latissima) Shell & Tell episode.
Kaitlin is a self-identified ocean lover and wannabe communicator who has been volunteering with Back to the Sea for years. Equipped with a degree in marine biology, she is an avid advocate for ocean literacy, curiosity, and stewardship and feels passionate about collaborating with others to make information available and accessible. Working by day and blogging by night, she aims to post about all the interesting, fascinating, and just plain weird happenings that occur in the ocean.
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