For marine biologist Dr. Katie Dobkowski, studying seaweed is both a profession and a passion. Over the last few years, she has completed annual snorkel surveys of bull kelp and kelp crab abundance and distribution, with assistance from undergraduate researchers. This research was conducted at three different field sites in the Salish Sea off the San Juan Islands of Washington State. In fall 2022, she presented some of her findings, “Where Are the Kelp and the Kelp Crabs?”, at the Western Society of Naturalists Meeting in Oxnard, CA.
Among other discoveries, Dr. Dobkowski determined that while kelp abundance changes from year to year and site to site, overall, it appears to be decreasing. Dr. Dobkowski explained that kelp are stressed by warming ocean temperatures — a problem that is intensified by a stable crab population that feasts on what kelp remains. “If kelp abundance continues decreasing,” she warned, “there is major concern for nearshore habitats because a loss of bull kelp means less habitat for other organisms, including fish and marine invertebrates, as well as less food for marine herbivores like crabs and sea urchins.”
Educating a broader populace about the importance of kelp subsistence is an important part of her project. In November 2022, Dr. Dobkowski was invited to give a talk on the Theodore Payne Foundation’s Poppy Hour YouTube show. Her presentation, “Botany of the Beach”, provided a fun yet informative introduction to seaweed biology and ecology. Attendees learned how to identify the three main groups of seaweeds — reds, browns, and greens — as well as facts about local species found in Southern California. Dobkowski enjoys sharing fun facts about seaweed. “Many foods, like sushi (which you would expect),” she says, “and reduced-fat ice cream (which you might not expect), included seaweed or seaweed-based ingredients.” For the more adventurous, Dr. Dobkowski offered some other culinary uses of seaweed, including a recipe for seaweed cake!
Last Updated on February 16, 2023.