Campus: Sonoma State University -- October 7, 2005
Looking Out For the Sea Palm - SSU Biology Professor to Study Harvesting
Practices of a Popular Sea Vegetable
Sonoma State University biology professor Karina Nielsen has been awarded a three-year
grant to study an edible seaweed harvested extensively in Mendocino County whose aggressive
harvesting may be leading to local extinction.
The $129,000 grant was awarded from the National Association and Oceanic And Atmospheric
Association as part of its California Sea Grant program.
Because the demand for seaweeds has risen significantly in recent years, and because little
is known about their basic natural history, some biologists worry that the sea palm may be
vulnerable to overexploitation, particularly in Mendocino County where in recent years two
to three wet tons were harvested annually. The sea kelp is found only along the West coast
from San Luis Obispo to Vancouver Island.
The sea palm is an intertidal, cold-water kelp that resembles a small palm tree and whose
edible fronds are likened to low-fat, mineral rich noodles. Sea palms are just one of a
handful of edible seaweeds harvested in California and sold dried at health food stores,
Asian markets, and more recently through the Internet which Nielsen feels has appeared to
accelerate its sales. "Sea Palm Strudel" can be found on the menu of a local Mendocino
Nielsen's work will help to provide marine regulators with the information they need to
ensure a sustainable source of the seaweed. The project will examine the biology of the
California sea palm (Postelsia palmaeformis) and study the effects of different harvesting
practices on sea palm reproduction, growth and abundance. Nielsen will also explore the
extent to which the kelp's annual cycles and growth patterns vary with latitude.
In collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Game, the project will analyze
seaweed harvest data and use new biological information to evaluate whether current
regulations are ensuring a sustainable industry.
"Karina Nielsen's work will build on department research from the early 1990's and be a
valuable asset in helping us protect this unique resource," says Peter Kalvass, a DFG
Results of this project will also be communicated to undergraduates enrolled in a new course
at Sonoma State University, "Communicating Ocean Sciences" and through UC Santa Barbara's
Marine Science Institute via its Outreach Center for Teaching Ocean Science and the Research
Experience and Education Facility.
For further information contact Dr. Karina Nielsen, (707) 664-2962. Peter Kalvass can be
reached at (707) 964-9080.
Media contact: Jean Wasp, Media Relations Coordinator, (707) 664-2057