Have you ever wondered what those dried brown twisty things are that you find on beaches? I’ve noticed that lots of these turn up on the shingle at Ringstead Bay. It took me a while to work it out. They are in fact the dried stems of kelp seaweed. It’s amazing that something so large, juicy and pliable eventually shrinks down to this.
There are extensive kelp beds just off-shore in the sheltered shallow water, especially on and around the reefs that you can see at low tide. Large quantities of kelp and other seaweeds often get washed ashore. It sometimes ends up as huge banks and frequently becomes incorporated into the shingle – consolidating and stabilising the beach.
This is a view of Ringstead Bay looking westwards towards Bran Point. It shows kelp and other seaweeds drying on the strandline. The reds, oranges, olives, ochres and browns look good against the blue-grey and rusty coloured limestone and flint pebbles.
This photograph shows a close up of the drying kelp. The texture first changes from wet and mucilaginous to leathery, and then becomes brittle as the weed lies exposed to the air. When the pebbles move around, they break the weed up, and the more resilient stems separate out. You can see some of them lying on the surface in the picture below.
The natural properties of kelp stems have been put to good use in the past. They have been used in ancient times to secure, for example, axe heads to wooden shafts – in much the same way that sinews were also used.
Revision of a post first published 11 June 2009
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