Kelp forests are considered one of the most prolific and dynamic ecosystems on Earth. They provide food and shelter to thousands of fish, invertebrates and other algae. Studying the kelp forest is a valuable method for understanding many ecological processes.
To draw attention to the critical role the giant kelp plays both within and outside of the ocean, UC Santa Barbara marine biologists Carol Blanchette and Jenny Dugan wrote The Golden Forest, a children’s book which explores kelp forest ecology and biodiversity. The book was inspired by the Long Term Ecological Research Program (LTER) at UCSB which was established by the National Science Foundation to promote research on long-term ecological phenomena.
“It’s good for people to understand the world around them and know the important role kelp plays in the functioning of the ecosystem,” Blanchette said on the key aim of the book. “That kelp which washes up on the beach is not garbage, but an important food source for organisms and is used as a way of recycling nutrients and carbon along the coast.”
The story follows Owen, a young boy who travels from Colorado to coastal California to visit his cousin and aunt. With his family, he explores the beach and studies the vast array of life which depend on kelp and other ocean plants. Throughout his educational journey, he learns of the importance of kelp both in the water and along the coast.
Just as the giant kelp provides food and protection to fish communities and marine mammal species underwater, so too does the kelp offer sustenance for invertebrates and bird species on the shore. Some bird species directly depend on the densities of larvae and invertebrates which inhabit the kelp.
Through the Santa Barbara Coastal’s Schoolyard LTER program, K-12 students are able to read the book before visiting UCSB. Blanchette explains that the book allows the youth to have a fundamental level of understanding of coastal ecology before they explore the beach and UCSB’s Research Experience & Education Facility (R.E.E.F.). “With this background knowledge, they can really appreciate the kind of activities they do and what they observe,” Blanchette said
While the Santa Barbara Coastal LTER continues to study the significance of land and ocean processes in structuring kelp forest ecosystems, there is a shifting focus of research for both Blanchette and the program. “A lot of the upcoming research areas for the LTER are going to be investigating more about how coastal climates are changing and trying to understand what the future holds for environmental variables.”