Kassia Meador is more than just a legend in the professional surfing scene. For the past decade, she has noticed seaweed forests in her favorite surfing spots have gone missing. That motivated the surfer to raise awareness about kelp’s climate benefits and many other ways the sea vegetation is sustainable.
Kelp forests are home to many underwater creatures. Sea otters and sea lions call these forests home, along with many types of fish and marine life. Surfers love it because it creates a glassier surface ideal for catching waves. Better yet, sharks can’t navigate through the plant, providing an extra degree of protection for surfers. Without these underwater forests, poor surfing conditions aren’t the only thing to fear.
Seaweed’s disappearance is attributed to marine heat waves that killed off giant starfish, natural predators of sea urchins that feed on it.
“With the starfish gone, the urchins have eaten all the kelp,” Meador explained. “At so many of the beaches where I surf, there used to be giant kelp beds and all these fish. That’s totally gone.” She made it her goal to restore these kelp forests to their original setting.
After leaving sponsored professional surfing in 2013, Meador started a line of women’s surfing gear, Kassia+Surf, two years later. The business donates 2% of its gross sales revenue to restoration projects, specifically SeaTrees. The organization plants new kelp trees worldwide — more than 2 million ocean vegetation. Some of their work includes reforesting giant seaweed plants off the coast of Monterey, CA, another area affected by the urchin problem.
Thanks to funding from participants like Kassia+Surf, SeaTrees can continue to build back kelp forests, mangroves, and other aquatic plant life. That’s important, as mangroves can be five to 10 times more effective at removing greenhouse gasses from the air.
“Not only is it imperative as a conscious business owner to think about materials and production methods, it’s important to fuel the projects that you feel are making a difference,” Meador told Consensus via email. “Kelp sequesters up to 85% of our global carbon emissions, so we feel that supporting kelp forests is having a direct and rapid positive impact on climate change.”
Kelp forests are an essential part of carbon sequestration. They are more effective at absorbing carbon than rainforests, and unlike rainforests, they aren’t susceptible to hazards like wildfire.
There are some impressive figures to back this claim, such as a report saying seaweed farming in just 3.8% of American federal waters off California could sequester emissions from the state’s agriculture industry. To add more perspective, that’s a minute portion of the world’s ocean suitable for growing macroalgae. It shows how effective even a small patch of kelp can be against emissions.
“Seaweed is a very valuable material, and there are better ways of using this material while contributing to mitigating climate change than disposing of it in the deep sea,” said Carlos Duarte, a Red Sea Research Center seaweed scientist.
Kelp’s usefulness goes beyond carbon sequestration and creating pristine surfing conditions. A company called Primary Ocean has been extracting the plant to create sustainably produced products that are better for the environment. Scientists have found ways to use it in bioplastics, food, textiles, and pharmaceuticals.
Kelp is also highly nutritious. It carries a 10 to 30% protein content and nutrients that boost immune health, reduce cholesterol, and possess anti-inflammatory properties. Since seaweed doesn’t need arable land for cultivation and growth, it can be harnessed for food. Many cultures already eat it regularly. Plus, food science companies are finding ways to use the plant as a meat alternative.
More seaweed in the ocean will aid the fight against climate change while promoting sea biodiversity and creating safer conditions for surfers. Meador marvels at the rate of the recovery projects, citing how she took a dive in Los Angeles and noticed how fast the forests have returned.
“It’s crazy seeing how what was urchin barrens just two years ago has been turned around, and the kelp is coming back and thriving,” she said. “That’s the kind of rapid change we need right now.”