Kelp is on the way

Laguna Beach's Kelpfest, which aims to educate residents about the ocean plant's utility, will return April 26.

April 15, 2014|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Artist Mike Beanan hangs up a fish, made from a cardboard box, as he helps set up a kelp forest during Kelpfest 2013 at Main Beach.
Artist Mike Beanan hangs up a fish, made from a cardboard… (KEVIN CHANG, Coastline…)

Laguna Beach's annual Kelpfest was born out of frustration.

Every time Nancy Caruso heard people grouse about kelp washing up on local beaches, she'd want to "bang her head against a wall." To her, that was akin to planting trees only to gripe when they shed leaves.

The Garden Grove resident — who founded Get Inspired Inc., a nonprofit specializing in environmental education and conservation programs — was discussing what she deemed an absurd situation with her friend when inspiration struck.

They decided to create a festival whose sole purpose would be to generate awareness about kelp, a type of seaweed that grows in underwater forests and plays a critical role in overall marine health.

"It's ridiculous," said Caruso, who has spent a decade working to restore kelp to the ocean waters off Laguna and Newport Beach. "I realized that I'd missed some people in the education process. If they knew how important kelp was, they wouldn't complain about its presence."


Now in its fifth year, Kelpfest will return to Main Beach from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 26. Caruso, 41, makes it known that this is not a money-making endeavor — she and other participants only want to foster an appreciation for kelp.

Guests will be able to learn about kelp, purchase kelp-themed items and interact with the artists, including jeweler Emilio Vega and painters Susan MacLeod and Erik Wong. Food, arts and crafts, face-painting and games will be available. Bands including Birdsong and the Eco-Wonders and the Island Bazaar's Ukulele Club will provide live entertainment.

"Most people are not scuba divers, so it's difficult to convey the beauty of kelp to those who have not been underwater," Caruso said. "We have to convey their importance very quickly to someone just walking by on the beach. We do that with a lot of art, and Laguna is very good at art."

Photographer Josie Iselin, who uses a flatbed scanner and computer to create portraits of specimens from the natural world, will help in that regard.

Iselin, who built her first series around dryer lint, recalled a trip to Duxbury Reef in Marin County during which she found scraps of seaweed. On first glance, her find seemed dull, but upon holding it up the sky, she realized it was magenta with interesting details.

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