Miso Soup Kelp is Consuming the California Coast

miso soup kelp photo

Photo via the AP

An invasive species of seaweed has invaded the California coastline, where it's set about blocking out much-needed sunlight from native kelp. Now it's endangering entire marine ecosystems that call California kelp forests home, and it's spreading fast. Really fast--the Asian kelp, which is called wakame, and is the stuff used to make miso soup, is considered one of the world's 100 worst invasive species. And no, it doesn't mean Californians will soon be enjoying delicious Japanese soup whenever they please--it means the state's coastal habitats are in big trouble.The kelp has been spreading along the coast from Los Angeles ever since 2000, though it was thought that it's spread was stopped at Monterrey some time ago. It was brought over from Asia by shipments of oysters, vessel hulls, and by people who use wakame in cooking, according to the Associated Press, which also states:

The seaweed spreads by releasing millions of spores that are dispersed by currents and can travel miles. While it is native to Japan, China and Korea, studies have found the kelp in the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Coast of Europe, New Zealand and Argentina.
It was discovered again in San Francisco Bay last May, alarming scientists familiar with the area's ecosystem.

One reason for the continued spread? Lack of funding. Money allocated to help fight the kelp evidently dried up last year (as did funding for just about everything in California, it seems). So now, the task of keeping the kelp--which can grow up to an inch a day and is commonly seen at lengths of over 6 feet long--under control has fallen to a handful of volunteers.

And many are worried the kelp will continue its spread north, potentially wreaking havoc on fragile underwater ecosystems along the way. From the AP:

Scientists say the waters from Baja California to British Columbia are the perfect temperature for Undaria to spread even further up the Pacific Coast of the United States. "This is not well studied enough, and we're really quite nervous about it getting out in the ecosystem," Zabin said. "It will attach to about anything."
There's still a hope that the stuff can be contained, though prospects seem grim given the lack of funding and attention.
"If it's restricted to two docks in the marinas in San Francisco Bay, we'll have a chance," [Chela Zabin, a biologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center] said. "If it's spread beyond those places, it may be a lost cause."

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