National Arbour Week is celebrated throughout South Africa during the first week of September. During this important week South Africans are encouraged to plant as many indigenous trees in their local communities as is possible.
We all know that trees give us oxygen, absorb CO2 and other toxins as well as provide a home for countless creatures. They also add value and beauty to our lives.
So, while we celebrate the forests and trees of the land, let us take a moment to think about the forests in the ocean. Yes – the oceans support underwater forests which are just as spectacular and valuable to humans as those on land. Just as many trees are the biggest plants on earth, kelp are the biggest plants in the ocean – kelp is a giant brown seaweed, some of which are over 70m in length.
Forests of kelp not only create massive and unique ecosystems which provide shelter for millions of animals, but they also contribute to our food supply by providing a home to animals that people enjoy eating such as rock lobster, abalone and many fish species.
Kelp forest structures help to buffer coastal communities from waves and storms. Just as trees are harvested commercially, kelp is also commercially important as the alginate extracted is used in toothpaste, soaps, ice cream and fabric printing.
Kelp is also used as fertilizer in agriculture. Unlike many of our trees that grow very slowly, kelp grows remarkably quickly – in fact one kelp species can grow over 50cm a day!