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 restaurant.

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 marine biologist.

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

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