Juneau biologist discovers new kelp in Aleutian Islands

Posted: Friday, February 29, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Seaweed expert Mandy Lindeberg was concerned that the volcanic island's steaming beach was going to melt her boots when her attention was grabbed by a glowing yellow plant in 15 feet of crystal-clear water.

Max Hoberg / Noaa
Max Hoberg / Noaa

She knew immediately that the marine plant was special. What she didn't expect was that she would be the one to discover something previously unknown on the planet.

"I thought maybe if I'm lucky I would find a new species, but this was far beyond what I ever thought I would find here. But this is Alaska. It's a big place," said Lindeberg, a research fisheries biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau. She has been studying seaweed for 17 years.

Lindeberg stumbled across the new genus of kelp while trying to land her skiff on Kamagil Island in the central Aleutian Islands during a coastal survey in the summer of 2006. She was having trouble finding a place to land given the huge ground swells close to the island. The steaming beach was not inviting.

Then, she glanced down and got the thrill of a lifetime.

"It is just electric in the water," Lindeberg said Thursday. "It was definitely (like) running into a rock star out in the middle of nowhere."

Scientists have named the kelp the "Golden V" because of its distinctive shape and color. Its scientific name is Aureophycus alueticus.

"These days you don't just go out and discover a new large kelp. I guess Alaska is truly the last frontier," Lindeberg said.

The kelp, which can grow up to 9 feet long and has a paddle-shaped leaf with a golden-yellow stem, was attached to some large boulders. The part of the kelp that attaches to the rock is an unusual disc shape, allowing the plant to withstand the powerful wave action close to the island.

Last summer, the survey team returned to Kamagil to collect more specimens.

Scientists analyzed the kelp and found it is truly different.

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