Man-made rock reef is part of a welcome seaweed change

Three years ago, Southern California Edison pushed basketball-size rocks from a barge off San Clemente. Little did the utility realize that the kelp reef it created would thrive the way it has, or as quickly.

Eventually, the utility company hoped, the artificial reef it had assembled 50 feet below the waves would support a new kelp forest and fulfill state-imposed requirements to offset the damage its nearby nuclear power plant causes to marine life.

But no one expected the 174-acre Wheeler North Reef would thrive the way it has. Or as quickly.

Edison just happened to build its reef during the greatest giant kelp resurgence in decades, one that has brought an impressive buildup of floating green foliage to long-depleted waters near the Southern California shore.

“The last few years have been the most fantastic years for giant kelp in the last 30 years at least,” said Nancy Caruso, a marine biologist who organized last month’s Kelpfest in Laguna Beach, a festival celebrating the return of the underwater forests. “We had some excellent ocean conditions and the kelp started to spread, so they couldn’t have timed it better.”

More than a mere seaweed, giant kelp — a fast-growing algae — is the foundation for an entire ocean ecosystem, towering up from the seafloor to tangled canopies on the surface and offering nutrients and shelter to fish like sheepshead and perch as well as crabs, spiny lobsters and marine mammals.

To read the full article in the LA Times by Tony Barboza click here.