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In Praise of Turkish Towel Seaweed

Turkish Towel Seaweed

Turkish Towel Seaweed

This past weekend, the stones along the wrack zone of my favorite local beach were draped with one of my favorite seaweeds, Turkish Towel, Gigartina exasperata.

I’ve been in love with seaweeds since middle school, when my friend Vicki and I collected and pressed local seaweeds for a science class project. Fanning the specimens out on heavy paper with a small paintbrush gave me an appreciation for the intricacy of their structures. Seaweeds have evolved as dancing partners with water, giving them a beauty that’s not very well served by the name “algae.”

Turkish Towel Seaweed

Turkish Towel Seaweed

Turkish Towel is one of my favorites because of its bumpy, fingered texture and because of its amazing colors. It’s red while alive, then changes to shades of brown, pink, cream, and translucent as it dies and dries on shore. It reminds me of my grandmother’s collection of opalescent antique glassware. When it washes ashore in quantity, it looks as if there’s been a massive shedding of skins by some mythical underwater creature, or perhaps some sort of mermaid disaster. It smells like the sea, briny and funky and clean at once.

My family spends so much time picking up and cataloging plastic pollution from beaches that sometimes plastic is all I see. The bounty of Turkish Towel along the beach the other day jolted me out of my plastic vision and reminded me that there’s still a lot of living going on the Salish Sea and other waters. There’s much too much pollution and acidification of the oceans, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and depressed by it all. I needed this day on the beach, with all this good-stinky seaweed, to remind me of the bizarre and wonderful life out there, hidden from view.

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