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Algae, Pacific Northwest

Brown Algae, BC Coastal Region.
Bull Kelp, Brown Algae, Photo By Bud Logan

Algae belong to a large group of primitive aquatic organisms. Most of them are able to carry out photosynthesis. Just like the land plants, they contain chlorophyll, but they do not possess roots or leaves, in the same way land plants do.

Some algae are able to get energy from both photosynthesis and from external sources. These carry out photosynthesis but also take up organic matter by osmosis, and a few algae’s completely rely on external energy sources for its food supply.

There are several types of algae, blue green, red, green and brown. With the green algae being the largest group. It grows everywhere. There are more than 20,000 known varieties of algae. Most occupy marine environments, both fresh and salt.

Bull Kelp, BC Coastal Region
Bull Kelp, Brown Algae, Photo By Bud Logan

They produce oxygen, 87% of the oxygen we breath. They are important to humans not just for its ability to produce oxygen, but also as food and medicine. There are many medical uses for algae.

They are also used in sewer treatment facilities. Some can be used to treat both municipal and industrial wastewater. Some algae play a major role in aerobic treatment of waste in the secondary treatment process. Algae based municipal wastewater treatment systems are mainly used for the removal of nitrogen and phosphorous. It has the ability to accumulate the heavy metals and thereby remove toxic compounds from the wastewater. In some cases, they also play a role in the removal of pathogens.

When it is grown in sunlight it can absorb carbon dioxide as it grows, it will convert the carbon dioxide into oxygen for the rest of us to breathe. This could be used to reduce co2 emissions from sources such as power plants, ethanol facilities, and other sources. Algae like the coraline algae, are important members of coral reefs. Red types are unusual among them because they can produce calcium carbonate which makes the plants walls hard and resistant to wear.

Brown kinds are found mainly in the tidal zones, but some exist in the deep ocean. Among the brown algae are the largest and most complex of them, they include the giant kelp we see growing on the coastal waters. They can be more than 70 meters long and are a major food source for many types of marine animals.

Wireweed, BC Coastal Region
Wireweed, Brown Algae, Photo By Bud Logan

The oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and the algae produce up to 87% of the world’s oxygen. They also help remove huge amounts of Carbon Dioxide. We need to really look after our oceans, remember this – we kill the ocean, we will kill the world.

Green Algae can range from one celled organisms to very large and complex, multi celled organisms. They live in large colonies. There are both marine and freshwater green algae species. Like other algae, this algae is capable of photosynthesis.

Green Algae, Pacific Northwest
Green Algae, photo by Bud Logan

The color can be from a very dark green to light green color, which comes from having chlorophyll a and b, which they have in the same amounts as other plants. Their overall coloration is determined by the amounts of other pigmentation’s including beta carotene and xanthophylls. Like other plants, they store their food as starch.

This algae are common in areas where light is abundant, such as shallow water and tide pools. They are less common in the marine world than the brown and red algae, but they thrive in freshwater systems. Like other algae, this algae serves as an important food source for herbivorous marine life, such as fish, crustaceans and gastropods such as moon snails.

The pigment beta carotene, found in this algae, is used as a food coloring and also has benefits as a cancer treatment. Green algae could play a role in reducing global warming. As sea ice melts and iron is introduced to the ocean. This fuels the growth of algae, which absorb carbon dioxide and this could help reduce the effects of global warming.

Split kelp is medium to dark brown and has a thallus that is up to one meter tall and has a branched anchor that becomes a single stalk. The stalk flattens at its top to become a large flat blade that is divided into several ribbons, it is round shaped and rubbery to touch. The blade can be up to 95 cm long and up to 30 cm wide. The stalk can be up to 100 cm long, and up to 2 cm in diameter. If you cut the stalk, you can count growth rings just like you can on trees.

Split Kelp, Pacific Northwest
Split Kelp, photo by Bud Logan

This Kelp can live as long as 20 or more years. This perennial is found in patches, attached to rocks in the extreme low tidal areas and upper sub-tidal in exposed habitats where it grows profusely. Look right at the edge of the sea at the lowest tides to see it. In giant kelp forests that are exposed to wave action, you will find it growing as an under story plant.

It can be found on most shores of the  Aleutian Islands in Alaska to Baja California. It grows on all the coast of BC.

Split kelp is sold as an similar alternative to the more widely known Japanese kombu kelp. Split kelp is commercially harvested in BC, you harvest split kelp by hand at low tide, but please leave at least 10 cm of plant base to facilitate regrowth, cut it above the stalk leaving a fairly good chunk of leaf.

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