Philippe Cousteau Finds the Forest Around California’s Channel Islands

If you know Catalina Island only from the distance of mainland California, above the ocean’s surface, you’re seriously missing out. Deep underwater, there’s a veritable forest of kelp that rivals the state’s majestic and better-known land-dwelling trees.

In the latest installment of The Aquatic World with Philippe Cousteau, the submarine’s crew heads to the Channel Islands and their kelp forests, which Cousteau calls “the redwoods of the ocean.”

While kelp doesn’t grow quite as tall as redwoods do (the kelp variety called “giant” stretches to be more than 200 feet, and the trees can get upwards of 300 feet), it is one of the fastest-growing plants on earth. Some species can add up to 24 inches of length in a day. Two hundred feet is nothing to sneeze at, either — that’s taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Ashlan Gorse Cousteau tells us.

The cold, turbulent waters around the Channel Islands stir up nutrients for kelp, which in turn shelter animals including seals, sea lions, lobster, fish, sea otters, urchins, and octopi. Even though part of this ecosystem that nurtures more than 1,000 species of plants and animals lies within Channel Islands National Park, it's still vulnerable.  

“Unfortunately, these forests off Catalina are suffering from the effects of climate change and warming ocean temperatures,” Philippe says. Get there while you can.