Catalina Island’s waters are nearly devoid of one of their signature species. Simmered by warmer sea temperatures and battered by surges from a pair of hurricanes, nearly all of Santa Catalina’s kelp forests are gone. The amber fronds of the kelp forest fill a role very similar to terrestrial forests – they are habitat, food source and hunting ground for dozens of species. Bladder kelp and bull kelp are the most common species in local waters, but there are about 30 species of kelp, which in actuality is a type of brown algae.
Kelp thrives in colder Pacific waters and normally the waters around Catalina are prime habitat for its waving amber fronds, but this summer saw unusually warm water temperatures. Although visitors loved the warmer waters, they all but assured the demise of the Catalina Island kelp forests – at least for a time. Although kelp is very susceptible to less than prime water conditions, it’s also one of the fastest growing species on earth. Once the water temperatures drop into the low 60s, the kelp forests will rebound quickly, growing up to one or two feet a day.