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Why keep 100 year old Seaweed? 

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Plants form part of the immense collections at the Booth Museum of Natural History. Included in these are seaweeds – some of which are over 100 years old.

These seaweeds were carefully dried and mounted by the Victorian women who collected them – often forming delicate displays or arranged in beautiful bound books.

But why keep 100 year old seaweed? Is it all just for display? Dr Gerald Legg, former Curator of the Booth Museum of Natural History reveals all…

Algae specimens from Mrs Mary Merrifield’s collection at the Booth Museum of Natural History 

A window to the past

The seaweed collection at the Booth Museum includes 832 specimens representing 270 or more species. An important value of historical natural history collections is to be able to see what was found in the past compared with what is found now. What has been lost and what has been gained. The seaweed collections like those of Mary Merrifield, Mrs Leopold Grey and Dr Omerod in the Booth collections contain incredibly detailed notes showing exactly where they were found and the date they were collected. Data collection like this, over the last century and in more recent decades, has helped to provide key information for conservation.

In Sussex, data from one important group of seaweeds, the kelps – tough leathery and often large ‘brown’ seaweeds – is helping towards the restoration of a vital marine habitat that was hidden to most people beneath the waves.

Kelp Forests

Kelp forest canopy, photo by Andy Jackson

In the not too distant past, kelp forests were abundant along the shore and off the coast of Sussex. These kelp forests provided important nurseries for fish, helped to combat local effects of climate change and were a crucial habitat for a host of species.

Sussex kelp forest cover 1980

Kelp densities in the 1980s, photo by Andy Jackson

However, with trawling, dredging and the storm of 1986 much of the dense ‘forests’ have been lost. We no longer get masses of seaweeds washed up on Worthing beach causing a stink and making a useful fertiliser to be collected by farmers and the like.

Sussex kelp cover 2019

Kelp densities now, photo by Andy Jackson

What it’s like now

One lonely frond of kelp, photo by Andy Jackson

Taking Action!

But now, 2020, the HelpOurKelp project has been launched to bring the kelp back. Sussex Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority, who manage fishing within six nautical miles from the Sussex shore, agreed a new byelaw on 23 January 2020 which will prevent trawling from a 304 km2 of Sussex. This will hopefully reduce the pressure on the habitats favoured by the kelps allowing it to regenerate.

Discover the latest updates of the HelpOurKelp campaign how kelp can migitgate climate change, and what you can do to help on our Ocean Blues website.

Discover More

Dr. Gerald Legg, former curator Booth Museum of Natural History 


Kelp by Jeffrey Yang

How easy it is to lose oneself

in a kelp forest. Between

canopy leaves, sunlight filters thru

the water surface; nutrients

bring life where there’d other-

wise be barren sea; a vast eco-

system breathes. Each

being being

being’s link.