Pacific Pup: The California Coast According to Annette

Float On

As a California child, I believed the beach was an imaginary kingdom that my friends and I ruled over. We were sultans of the sand, but there was only one available prop with which to signal our status. To our parents’ great annoyance, we adorned ourselves in all kinds of seaweed that had washed ashore, chased each other with it, and used it as a creative tool for our low-tech games. Maybe it was just my group of friends and I, but seaweed was the root of many fun times shared on the shore.

It was only in subsequent years, while studying marine biology, that I recognized how vital these algae are not only to marine ecosystems but to our economy as well. The kelp beds off the coast of California are thought to be some of the most productive and diverse ecosystems on the planet. A diverse group of kelp and algae contribute to kelp forests, each specific to a particular region of the forest, from the floor to the canopy. Giant kelp is a well-known brown alga that contributes largely to these forests. Reaching lengths of over one hundred feet from the forest floor, kelp is one of the fastest-growing organisms on earth–some species grow almost two feet per day! This is quite a feat, considering these life-forms have no roots, stems, or flowers. Instead of roots, algae create a “holdfast,” or anchor, by attaching to rocks on the ocean floor. Elegantly shaped floats filled with air give them buoyancy.
Algae are a growing contributor to our economy, found in a wide range of products from ice cream to face moisturizer. Current research is even determining whether some types of algae can be harvested for biofuel. It is important to keep in mind the consequences of overharvesting, however; thousands of animals depend on kelp forests for survival, from marine mammals, like sea otters, to tiny mollusks, like jewel-topped snails.
Seaweed on the beach is often perceived as an annoyance, but take a closer look and you will begin to see the beauty, diversity, and intriguing characteristics of each kind. There are so many different types of algae that wash ashore, and each fills a different niche in its environment. I try to cherish moments when I find a type I haven’t seen before.
Some of my favorite paintings are inspired by the strange beauty of seaweed. Check out these awe-inspiring works by Jane Kim, Amadeo Bachar, and Nick Ford.
See you at the beach!
Annette Filice
(Scientific Illustrator Intern)

Sketch Notes:
Float On
Floats and Anchors: Many types of algae use air filled floats or bladders for buoyancy. They also build holdfasts to anchor themselves to rocks on the ocean floor.
Red vs. Green: Some algae photosynthesize with green chloroplasts, while others called “brown algae” use a reddish pigment called fucoxanthin.
Coralline Algae: Some types of algae have calcium deposits in their cell walls, which play a crucial role in building coral reefs.


  1. I love the colors and the variety of kelp you present. Coralline algae is one of my favorites, along with Giant kelp…scuba diving in the kelp forest is so magical! Thanks for your stories of fun with kelp. Keep up the good work, Annette!

  2. says

    Floaton.. Smashing 🙂

  3. says

    Floaton.. Reposted it 🙂