Chloe Chan: Kelp Foraging

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To most beachgoers, seaweed is, well, just a weed. But to Chloe Chan its an introduction to the community of kelp foragers

Last weekend, I returned to one of my favorite places: Mavericks Beach on the California Coast. While most teenagers my age come here to picnic or play paddle-ball on warmer afternoons, I arrived before dawn, the only light coming from my digital watch. It was 5:30 AM; the tide was at its lowest and I could just make out the elbows of Kombu kelp floating atop the water.

Surprisingly, today I was not alone on my seaweed foraging adventure. I had dragged along two of my biology summer-class friends, who were still grumbling about the biting cold and rubbing the sleep from their eyes.

On this very beach a couple summers ago, I met Barbara. While my dad and siblings were preoccupied fishing, I was intrigued by this lone, peculiar woman adorned with a kelp feather boa who was
prodding at the water. My curiosity got the best of me, and after a short introduction I found myself joining in on what she called “seaweed foraging.” Over the years, Barb and I met up on this beach where she taught me the culture of the local foraging community. We take no more than we need to sustainably live off the land.

With these principles in mind, I showed my friends how to consciously harvest seaweed by cutting off a couple blades at an angle and leaving some fingers on the stipe so they can grow back faster. Snipping away, we chattered about this week’s biology class topic: kelp’s strange but effective use as a carbon sink in the fight against climate change. I added that seaweed could be used in many different cuisines, or as an defoliant, fertilizer, and much more. Even kelp burgers exist now!

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By the end of our foraging, we had collectively harvested three backpack-fulls of Bladderwrack, Nori, and Turkish Towel kelp while
simultaneously snacking on some salty Wakame edges.

I find peace being alone at Mavericks Beach on most Sunday mornings, nothing but the soft waves crashing against the shore to interrupt my thoughts. But as we stumbled out of the water debating whether seaweed was better in miso or dried as a salty crisp, I smiled knowing that I was passing on the intimate
culture of sustainable harvesting that I was taught by my own coastal community.

With a Perspective, I’m Chloe Chan.

Chloe Chan is a rising senior at Crystal Springs Uplands School, and an aspiring environmental sociologist.