Monterey Bay Algae

An Illustrated Gudie to Appreciating Algae

What's An Algae?

Like plants, algae contain chlorophyll and photosynthesize sunlight, but unlike plants, they lack certain complex structures like vascular tissue, true stems, roots, and leaves.

Tidepool Diversity

It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again. –John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Tidepools are little worlds teaming with life. Find a pool and sit there. How many d ifferent animals, plants, fossils, and algae do you see? Sit still. Watch for movement. Look for specific colors, look for certain shapes. Listen to the waves roll in, to the splashes, to the dripping, to the wind. Smell the salty air.

Green pin cushion

Cladiophora columbiana

Looks like moss, don't you think?


Calliarthon spp.

Feels crunchy because of calcium carbonate in its cell walls the same stuff that makes up shells.

Tar Spot

Mastocarpus spp.

This is a different life stage of the Turkish washcloth algae that you'll see later in this guide.


Mazzaella flaccida

Compare its shiny, iridescent quality when it is out of the water to when it is submerged.

Scouring pad

Endocladia muricata

This native species is very visually similar to a potentially invasive species.

Surf grass

Phyllospadix spp.

Sweeping over the tidepools of Pleasure Point in Capitola, CA. This is one of few actual plants in the ocean. See if you can spot its flowers.

Foraging for Food

The Awaswas speaking people of Santa Cruz called kelp rukchena and up and down the coast of California, people have harvested this and other types of algae for thousands of years. The following are prized edible algae.

Before you start foraging for food from the ocean

  1. research collecting laws and regulations
  2. know what you’re taking
  3. be a good steward of the ocean by prioritizing collecting invasive species, only taking what you can use, and harvesting in a way that lets the algae continue to grow.


    Pyropia spp.

    The seaweed of sushi

    Sea lettuce

    Ulva spp.


    Fucus distichus

    Wakame or winged kelp

    Alaria marginata

    While this is the native species, we recommend harvesting the visually similar Undaria pinnatifida which is invasive in California


    Bullwhip kelp

    Nereocystis luetkeana

    Kombu or stiff-stiped kelp

    Laminaria setchellii

    Turkish washcloth

    Mastocarpus papillatus

    Giant kelp

    Macrocystis pyrifera



    With Thanks

    We relied heavily on the work of Kirk Lombard’s book The Sea Forager’s Guide to the Northern California Coast and the LiMPETS citizen science platform.

    This guide was written and illustrated by Marisa Gomez, Public Programs Manager at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.