The California Kelp Forest
My diving career so far has been rich with travel. I have dove all over the tropical blue waters of the Caribbean and the untouched oceans of Fiji. I've seen the exotic Antarctic sea creatures that migrate north to the temperate waters of Sydney, Australia, swam with the seals in the Isles of Shoals off the New Hampshire coast, investigated nineteenth-century wooden shipwrecks in Lake Champlain, and chased lobster and flounder in the chilly water off the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine. I've dove on animated coral reefs, in fast-moving rivers, and in lifeless, silty quarries. This summer, I'll have the opportunity to explore the Blue Hole of Belize and the underwater caves of North Florida.
It's all been amazing, and I always look forward to discovering what diving has in store for me next. But my favorite place of all to dive is the kelp forest of California.
The kelp stalks, called stipes, extend from the sea floor to the ocean's surface, where they continue to grow and amass into a tangled canopy. You descend through the canopy, taking care not to entangle your fins or scuba equipment, and follow the stipes down to the bottom. Looking up, the sunlight filters through the canopy in a similar manner to a terrestrial forest. In fact, I'm constantly reminded of the temperate rainforests of British Columbia (which, incidentally, I'm told is an excellent place to dive!).
Pneumatocysts are gas-filled bladders along the stem of the kelp that provide buoyancy for it to stand upright. Unlike most terrestrial plants, where the roots are responsible for nutrient uptake, kelp relies on its roots only for anchoring the plant to the sea floor. The fronds of kelp provide nutrients and photosynthesis for the plant.
As you navigate between the stalks of kelp, ocean surge will often cause you to sway back and forth. The kelp sways too, as though there were a passing breeze filtering through the branches of spindly trees.
It's really a magical place, teeming with life. You'll see common kelp forest residents such as California's state fish, the Garabaldi...
... and the California Sheephead.
In addition to fish, you'll see sharks, rays, lobsters, nudibranchs, and sometimes even sea lions. Kelp forests typically lie in reasonably shallow water, and so are one of the first things new California divers get to experience (if they're lucky). I certainly consider myself fortunate to have such incredible diving in my own backyard.