The kelp forests of the oceans are a habitat for a wide range of marine species, rivaling even the great tropical forests for sheer richness of biodiversity, according to scientists from the KELPER project, which studies these marine algae ecosystems. The kelp species, or marine algae, that make up these seaweed strands anchored to rocks on the seafloor are typically Macrocystis pyrifera, or giant kelp, and Lessonia trabeculata, known locally as huiro palo. The largest natural reserves of these algae are found off the coast of Chile and southern Argentina, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Chile is the main beneficiary of this abundance, with an important industry dedicated to kelp harvesting, primarily L. trabeculata, making the country the world’s largest producer of macroalgae. Chile is the main producer of macroalgae. Image courtesy of Sernapesca. Algae contain a carbohydrate called alginate that’s used as a thickener in a large number of products in the food industry, such as desserts, ice creams, dairy products, sauces and condiments. It’s also used in the textiles and pharmaceuticals industries, including in the production of creams and toothpaste. Until 2005, these long strands of kelp were collected on the beach by fisher-gatherers when, after a swell, the waves pulled them up from the seafloor and deposited them on the shore. Since then, increasing demand for alginate — a market estimated at $1 billion a year, according to a KELPER Project report — has driven the industry to start harvesting the kelp…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer

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