Warmer water and recent storm swells are to blame for mounds of stinky kelp piling up on the sand in the upscale Southern California resort city of Laguna Beach, scientists say.
Steve May, Laguna's public works director, said the sheer volume of kelp that has washed ashore in recent months is the most he's seen in 20 years on the job.
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To those complaining about the piles' pungent odor, marine biologist Nancy Caruso says to keep in mind that the slimy bundles are living ecosystems.
Kelp plays a pivotal role in the food chain, she told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1s3dchW). Beach hoppers hide in the piles. In turn, those tiny invertebrates become a food source for shorebirds.
Kelp often is pulled back into the ocean by high tides, releasing reproductive spores. The process allows nutrients to seep into the sand as well.
Caruso attributes the increase to warmer water temperatures and ocean swells that dislodged kelp from reefs.
She noticed something different while scuba diving near Crystal Cove in late August, when Hurricane Marie off Baja California created massive waves along Orange County beaches.
The storm "ripped out 98 percent of the kelp from the reef," said Caruso, explaining the disgorgement would foster new plant growth.
City crews occasionally scoop up the seaweed and take it to Laguna Canyon, where it is left to dry in the sun.
Once dried, the kelp is taken to the Waste Management recycling facility in Irvine, where it is combined with other "green waste" materials such as tree branches and leaves, company spokeswoman Eloisa Orozco said. It's then taken to another facility where it is turned into landfill cover, she told the newspaper.
Though many find kelp's aroma a bit too pungent, Caruso thinks it "smells good."
"I want people to understand that kelp is supposed to be here," she told the Times.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com