As so many of us head to the sea for our holidays, to benefit from its restorative effects on mind, body and soul, a great seaside activity is to go out looking for seaweed. Seaweed is never far from the beach, attaching itself to any rocky outcrops on the shore. It is mostly visible at low tide but different species grow in different tidal regions so there is always a chance to see something on your beach walks.
You may like to check the tide times or even learn a little more about how the tides behave. Whether you are in Ireland or abroad, you will be able to find out either by observing yourself, asking local people or checking online. The tide goes in and out every twelve hours. You can check Irish tide times on the Marine Institute website.
When we go out looking at seaweed we normally start an hour before low tide. This gives us plenty of time to see what’s about. You could start exploring as soon as the upper part of the shore is exposed as there is usually something to see in all the different tidal zones.
It is good to ask local people for any guidance they can offer about areas of soft sand or places where the tide might come in and cut you off or any other safety precautions that might need to be considered. The most exposed shores will probably have smaller specimens of seaweed. On more sheltered shores the algae have chance to grow bigger as they are more protected. In some rock pools in sheltered areas algae can grow really big. These rock pools are like poly-tunnels for algae.
Seaweeds have to put up with the constant movement of the sea and on the Atlantic coastline of Ireland, that movement can often be quite forceful. Summer storms are becoming more frequent and this can displace seaweeds from their rocks before they have fully grown and completed their reproductive cycle. If you find any seaweed that is not attached to rocks, do not eat it as it will be in a state of decay. This seaweed is still attached to stone but the whole thing has been displaced by strong waves.
Seaweed is fragile and important and should really be treated with respect. Like land plants, algae use photosynthesis to absorb carbon dioxide and produce carbohydrate and oxygen. This makes them very important to us. We are dependent on the oxygen that algae produce and at the moment it is generally cited that all the algae in the ocean (most of which is microscopic phytoplankton) produce over 50% of the oxygen in our atmosphere.
Seaweed doesn’t have roots as such, but the plants do attach themselves to rocks with something called a Holdfast which looks like a bit like root system. They are attached to rocks so that they can stay close to the surface of the water and be exposed to light. Most seaweeds also have a stipe and fronds. Which are similar to the stem and leaves of land plants. The size of the stipe and fronds varies from species to species.
If you want to collect a little seaweed, a general guideline is to only take the tips of the fronds from any samples you find. In the picture below we only cut the tips of the fronds to the left of the scissors from this plant. This will allow the plant to be able to continue to grow. Only take a little from each outcrop so that the plant has enough fronds left to keep making energy. If you pull the seaweed from the rock you will be destroying the plant’s ability to stay close to the light. If this happens it will not be able to photosynthesise and it will die.
If you are going out to look for seaweed it is always good to wear shoes that have plenty of grip and which are properly secured to your feet. When you are out exploring on the shore it is good to go with someone else, have your mobile phone charged and secured from falling in the water, and wear some brightly coloured item of clothing or a high visibility jacket. Take layers of clothing with you as it can be breezy out on the rocks and always wear plenty of strong sun-screen as the water reflects light on to the skin, even on cloudy days.
If you are planning on gathering a little seaweed you will need a bucket and some scissors. It is also useful to have some small plastic bags to put separate samples in. A simple way to enjoy seaweed for beginners on holiday is to use some serrated wrack as a foot soak. Cut a few tips off of some fronds of serrated wrack. Hold them in your hands and rinse them in the sea to get rid of any debris like sand or small sea creatures. Transport them in your bucket. When you get home, place the serrated wrack in a bowl and pour some boiling water over it. Leave to stand for about 10-15 minutes.
Fill the bowl with water at a temperature that suits your feet. Soak your feet for another 10-15 minutes or as long as you want to. You can add soap if you like but the purpose of this exercise is to allow the feet to benefit from the silky smooth natural gels that are released from the seaweed. You could wash your feet before putting them in the seaweed soak. If you add soap it is still fine. The important thing is to get your feet in the seaweed.
We know we love the seaside but we don’t always know about the amazing benefits of seaweed. You can continue to benefit from seaweed with a range of beautiful Irish seaweed based products from a variety of vendors at www.wildatlanticseagarden.com
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