Specieswatch: kelp – a washed-up nuisance, and a health food

Wildlife

This week’s storms are washing up quantities of Laminaria hyperborea kelp on our shores. Removing the rotting and smelly stems, or stipes, can be a big task for local authorities.

This species of kelp, which has 3-metre leaves, among the most numerous of the seven that grow in British waters and form undersea forests, mainly on the west coast. It grows on rocky shores in water from a metre to 32 metres deep, wherever there is sufficient light. These forests soak up vast amounts of carbon and are good for stabilising the climate as well as providing food and a habitat for many sea creatures.

Also known by those who live along the shore as tangle, cuvie or redware, Laminaria hyperborea used to be seen as a resource. It is still spread on fields to rot down as a fertiliser in the Hebrides and was burned to ash for this purpose and to make soap and glass.

Industry still processes kelp to produce alginates, a thickening agent for food, toothpaste and pharmaceutical preparations. And it is becoming fashionable again, farmed and marketed as a health food, rich in iodine and other substances that help to keep us healthy.

Article Source: The Guardian