You may have attended our recent Fresh Start Workshop, at which chef Jacquelyn Buchanan showed us how to make perfect Nettle Soup, based on her classic bone broth stock. The broth features the nutrient dense dried kelp known as kombu, one of the greatest sources of umami texture and flavor we know of. If you weren’t able to attend, check the links for the recipes and other connections to resources. It was a great event, but this post is really not about nettle soup. It’s about ecology. Remember that word? It seems so old fashioned now, conjuring up 70’s era Earth Day images, Birkenstocks, Save The Whales. No Nukes! Ok, you get the point.
Ecology is simply the study of interactions of organisms between each other and their environment. If a species becomes extinct, its prey thrives and drives another species to extinction. Clearly not as simple as that sounds, but that’s the basic idea. So what does that have to do with bone broth? Stick with us here; it seems that, along the Pacific Coast, there has been a massive die off of sea stars, commonly known as starfish. NPR has reported about it here; if you’d like the source article with the hard science, you’ll find it from Science Advances here.
The devastation is being caused by a naturally occurring wasting disease that appears to be made worse by the effects of global warming. Sea stars eat sea urchins, whose population has exploded since 2013 as sea stars have virtually disappeared.
And sea urchins eat kelp.
Joe Gaydos, one of the authors of the study published in Science Advances, says that in some areas “urchins have eaten all the kelp.” He adds “If you looked on land, it would almost be akin to clear-cutting a forest.” So this is one of those instances where we are seeing living proof of the power and meaning behind the word ecology. The planet is one interconnected entity. Push this, and that falls down. Sea stars disappear and the vital ecosystem of kelp forests, which support multitudes of species, also go away. And, we’re out of kombu. No umami for you. Lesson learned.