Courtesy of NOAA/NOAA
The kelp plants that support underwater forests often hang down more than 100 feet below canopy of leaves that spread out across the surface of an ocean.
The kelp plants that support underwater forests often hang down more than 100 feet below canopy of leaves that spread out across the surface of an ocean. Courtesy of NOAA/NOAA
A team of scientists says it has found a string of vast, rich forests in an unexpected setting: far below the coral reefs found in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The new forests are made out of kelp plants that harbor a huge range of plants and animals. Like tropical rainforests, they may be refuges from threats posed by global climate change.
For many, the case is a reminder of how little we know about what's underneath the ocean. The team of American scientists says it found a vast underwater forest in an unexpected location.
People who have only seen the portion of a kelp bed that spreads out across the surface of an ocean are not especially impressed. But marine biologists like Michael Graham of San Jose State University say that is because a lot of them don't know about the underwater forest beneath the seaweed floating on the surface.
"These plants can grow basically down to about 100 150 feet depth and still grow to the surface," Graham said. "So it is really like being in a forest. they are knocking down the light there is less water motion. You tend to get the feeling you are somewhere else."
Sea creatures of every size and shape hang out inside these underwater forests, weathering storms, laying eggs and hiding from big things that want to eat them.
Graham says scientists don't know everything about how kelp forests work. One thing they thought they knew for sure was that there wasn't any need to look for kelp beds in the tropics.
That's because tropical waters were supposed to be too warm for plants like those. Every now and then a bit of kelp would come up with an anchor in the tropics, but Graham says few of his colleagues even noticed those reports.
Graham says his computer model suggests that there are many more tropical kelp forests out there waiting to be discovered. He hopes to find the next one off the coast of Costa Rica.