Early Saturday morning, my mother and I drove down to Charleston, Oregon to attend a class at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB). The class we were taking? Seaweed Art, which is the process of pressing seaweed or algae. With a diverse selection, the options are endless. There are three main colors that appear in algae: green, brown, and red.
The instructors started out by distributing plastic bags that we could use to collect our own specimens. We had two options from where we would collect, either from the dock or, for a greater diversity, along the pier, a short walk down the road.
Mom and I chose to take the walk down to the pier. We were lucky to be out during low tide, abling us to go down closer to where larger specimens would be discovered. We found several baby Bull Kelp, which our teacher later informed us was a great find as they look lovely after being pressed.
We returned to the lab shortly after collecting our algae specimens. We placed our collections in an aluminum container with salt water so that they may spread out, allowing us to see what we had found. This is when one of the instructors gave us a short talk, What is Algae?
One of our greater misconceptions about the world is that all Oxygen is produced by plants, but actually 35% is created by Algae. The other 65%? 35% from Cyanobacteria and 30% from Land Plants. Interesting enough, Algae is not actually a plant as they lack vascular tissue, roots, flowers, and seeds. The way they reproduce is more similar to ferns – via spores.
Algae are Incredible
Algae is the fastest growing organism on the planet; Bull Kelp can grow up to two feet daily. They have great symbiotic relationships between fungi and sloths. Who knew?
Fungi and Algae can live separately but can survive together in a much more diverse range of climate. Have you ever gone up to where snow is and seen a red substance on the snow? Most think that it was rust run-off (I did!) yet actually, it is Lichen. A clever phrase that always helps you remember this symbiotic relationship is, Freddie Fungi and Alex Algae took a Lichen to each other.
Sloths actually encourage algae to grow in their hair. This is helpful towards the sloths in that Algae provide camouflage and are more nutrient rich than the plants that sloths otherwise consume.
Algae is a great food source. Japan has long known this. Nori, a type of seaweed, is used in Sushi. On the Oregon Coast, we have a relative to Nori that grows. While Western Culture is still getting used to the idea of Seaweed being a great food source, Japan and China are still the largest consumers. On the Oregon Coast, there are no poisonous species so give it a try.
After the short lecture, the instructors showed us how to press the seaweed samples we’d brought back to the lab. Essentially, you layer a series of different materials in this order: cardboard, blotting paper, herbarium paper, your algae specimen, cotton fabric, blotting paper, and cardboard. We were also informed that you could use any thick type of paper, such as watercolor paper if you are unable to obtain herbarium paper.
Mom and I both did three of them each, yet we had enough algae to do several more only the class ran out of cardboard. The only tricky part that I found, was selecting how you wanted the algae to be arranged in the final product.
When we had completed all of the pressings, one of the instructors wrote down everyone’s contact information to inform all the participants the time final products could be picked up after drying. The drying process should take about two weeks, but some of the works might be held back longer as they wished to put some up on display at the South Slough Visitor Center.