A tagged piece of kelp from UC Santa Barbara's Kelp Watch project
(UCSB KELP WATCH PROJECT PHOTO)
Therese Coyle likes to go for a daily walk on the beach near her home in Aptos, a small coastal community between Monterey and Santa Cruz. Sometimes, she'll find interesting things on the beach.
A month ago Coyle found something that would be an important addition to a UC Santa Barbara research study on the ocean.
Coyle spotted a red tag which looked like a luggage tag attached to some seaweed. Because she often picks up litter, she pulled it from the seaweed, and took it with her.
Coyle later realized when she found might be important to ocean research. The tag asked the finder to notify some researchers at UC Santa Barbara.
The tag was from what’s called the Santa Barbara Kelp Tracking Study, a four year project involving a team of UCSB researchers trying to understand kelp movement.
Dr. Bob Miller, a research biologist with UCSB’s Marine Science Institute, says seaweed plays a key --yet often overlooked-- role in the lives of everything from insects to birds on beaches. He says it’s a critical part of the beach ecosystem, and where it ends up can help determine the health of a beach’s insects and birds.
The researcher says the institue has tagged more than 3,000 samples, and hundreds of them have washed up on South Coast beaches, from Carpinteria to Hollister Ranch.
The Northern California find is significant because it shows the spread of the kelp, which can expand its diversity, as well as the diversity of the tiny creatures that hitchhike in the kelp beds. Coyle says she was thrilled when she found out why the tag she found was important.
The UCSB team is halfway through its four year study, which is funded by an $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The researchers hope that if you take a walk on Central and South Coast beaches, you’ll keep your eyes open for the red-tagged kelp.