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Pass the Eelgrass 

click to enlarge Eelgrass drift on Mad River Beach.

Photo by Mike Kelly

Eelgrass drift on Mad River Beach.

Pssst! Hey man, wanna smoke some eelgrass?" asked an imaginary stranger.

I was like, "Why would I? And who are you, anyway?"

"I represent all of your imaginary friends, relatives, lovers and pets. They want to know if eelgrass can get you high. It could be the next big thing and we'd be in on the ground floor. Think of it: eelgrass pre-rolls, eelgrass edibles and eelgrass vaping."

Sure enough, there came a chorus of "Come on, cuz!" "Do it, sexy!" and "Arf arf arf!"

Dang, that's a lot of imaginary peer pressure. "Well, maybe," I said.

But harvesting live eelgrass is against the law. And you know what the other prisoners do to eelgrass offenders, right? Fortunately, eelgrass blades grow until they naturally break off but they have underground buds (buds!) called turions that remain to grow more blades. These broken blades can form floating mats that often wash up in large drifts on beaches near Humboldt Bay — especially during large tidal swings. So I could probably legally smoke some of that.

And common eelgrass (Zostera marina) does have a lot of cool properties. For example, unlike your typical "seaweed," it's an actual flowering plant. As such, eelgrass has submerged flowers and underwater pollination. It can also clone itself. There's even a documented bed of eelgrass that's genetically proven to have been cloning itself for 3,000 years.

Plus eelgrass grows well in Humboldt. In fact, Humboldt Bay grows more than 30 percent of the eelgrass in California — more than any other location at almost 5,000 acres. Eelgrass grows at the low-tide mark and a little deeper where it helps prevent erosion in the bay. And eelgrass sequesters a lot of carbon, which may help local shellfish resist ocean acidification.

Some scientists consider eelgrass meadows to be as diverse and productive as tropical rainforests or coral reefs. Whether that's correct is probably open for debate but it's certainly true that eelgrass hosts a complex community of animals, other plants, algae, bacteria — you name it.

Young Dungeness crabs thrive there. And eelgrass beds are a haven for juvenile fish, including popular ones like Pacific rockfish, lingcod, surfperch, sardines and various flatfish. Pacific herring lay their eggs all over the stuff and leopard sharks prowl the meadow edges. Bay pipefish, which are essentially straight seahorses, blend in with eelgrass blades and pick off unsuspecting invertebrates. Unfortunately for them, pipefish often wash up on the beach with the floating mats. But juvenile coho salmon have been detected using the mats as cover when migrating to the open ocean. More than 40 species of fish are known to be associated with Humboldt Bay eelgrass. Imagine how many snails and worms there are.

Also, Pacific brant geese eat eelgrass almost exclusively. A master harvester of wild meat, I know says that eelgrass-fed Pacific brants are the region's yummiest goose. And if an animal eats that much eelgrass and still tastes good, it can't be that unhealthy to smoke, right?

So, I rolled up an eelgrass fatty. But I couldn't get it lit.

"Suck harder!" my imaginary so-called friends chanted. I sucked and sucked but I wasn't getting anything.

Then the imaginary stranger said, "You call yourself a marine biologist, yet you didn't know that eelgrass is famously difficult to burn. Historically, people used it for mattress stuffing and insulation specifically because it resists catching fire. I can't believe you fell for it. I've exposed you as a fraud so my work here is done."

I heard "Loser!" and "Ugly bastard!" and "Grrrrr!" Even my little imaginary pig-tailed niece said, "Look! Uncle Mike is a dumbass!"

God, I hate eelgrass.

Biologist Mike Kelly writes science-based satire as M. Sid Kelly. It's available at Eureka Books and for Kindle. He prefers he/him pronouns.

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