If you’ve walked along an ocean shoreline, chances are you’ve stumbled upon the crumpled, brownish-green tendrils of kelp washed up at high tide. Despite appearances, the otherworldly seaweed is not a plant but rather a type of algae. Leaf-like forms called blades soak up sunlight to photosynthesize, and gas-filled bladders hold the structures close to the surface. Underwater, they grow in elegantly swaying forests, providing nourishment and shelter to marine wildlife. For Douglas Klug, these graceful, undulating ecosystems provide endless inspiration and surprising interactions.
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Based in Santa Barbara, California, Klug is an avid scuba diver and photographer who focuses on marine life, highlighting schools of fish and myriad textures as they interact in the rippling sunlight. Most of the kelp forests he explores are within Channel Islands National Park near where he lives. “All my diving is within what is considered ‘recreational’ limits at depths shallower than 130 feet. The water is cold, and the ocean has strong energy called surge, so the conditions can be challenging to work in,” he tells Colossal.
Klug pays attention to changes in the ecosystem, noting that “kelp forests themselves are living, thriving environments that can wax and wane with currents, water temperature, or other factors,” providing clues to the ocean’s health and the trickle-down effect for animals and humans that rely on its food sources. Not only is some of the seaweed edible, it provides safe haven and nurseries for fish, while large concentrations of the algae are powerful carbon sinks able to sequester millions of pounds of carbon dioxide. Due to the effects of the climate crisis and human inference with fragile aquatic ecosystems, the forests are suffering.
Klug shines a light on the marine world with the hope that viewers will gain understanding and appreciation for critical habitats. “I love shooting the kelp forests because it lets me highlight one of nature’s most important resources,” he says. “Kelp forests are important to all of us as they contribute to our world’s health and stability.” Along with other wildlife like seals, sea lions, and nudibranchs—a group of particularly colorful, tiny molluscs—the ocean challenges the artist to find the right conditions for lighting and exciting encounters, and to be in the right place at the right time.
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