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Marine Life

The Forests of the Sea

Photography by Maxwel Hohn / Words by Roseanne Keatley

Black rockfish explore their bull kelp neighbourhood. Photo: Maxwel Hohn

Life is thought to have evolved in the ancient seas, long before it was able to colonize land. Little is known about the first plants, but it is thought that they must have been closely related to some of the larger seaweeds, such as kelp, that have stronger stems and rootlike holdfasts for anchoring the plant against the pull of the tides. 

Gas-filled bladders float the kelp as it reaches towards the surface, creating a towering forest that supports a rich abundance and diversity of life within its arms. Like the forests above water, the forests of the sea also offer a plentiful and diverse ecosystem. Sea otters float in the canopies, while the sunlight trickles down to illuminate a small city bursting with life. Rockfish and sea lions weave between the fronds, while crabs, anemones, urchins cling to these structures accessing the richness that the currents bring. 

Kelp forests are often described as the ‘poster child’ of a healthy ocean ecosystem, and the natural light, swaying kelp, and sheer abundance of life has drawn underwater photographers to these forests time and time again. 

Although the images that emerge are the picture of serenity, the challenges of diving and photographing kelp are very real. The currents that support these beautiful systems also present an obstacle for divers, as the surging surf can easily tumble a diver into the ‘washing machine’: a reminder that the ocean is in charge and must be respected.

As a photographer, the challenge is all part of the fun, but safety must come first. Entanglement is one of the leading causes of diver complications while exploring kelp forests, and with a camera in hand, you can easily become distracted. Remember to stay calm, aware of your surroundings, and always dive within your experience level and with a good buddy.

Kelp forests can be found stretching the coastlines of North America from California to Alaska, providing endless wonders and the promise of secrets to uncover. 

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