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Reefkeepers Plants

Many marine plants inhabit reefs in B.C. Although some reef plants only live during the summer months when the waters are warm and calm, many plants live throughout the stormy coastal winters. Subtidal marine plants range widely in almost every characteristic, including size, shape, colour, and life cycle. Plants are extremely important to the reef community as they provide food, shelter, and a place of attachment for many reef organisms. They also have to compete for space on the reefs with some of the animals that attach themselves on the reef's surface, but most manage to reach a natural balance with others in the reef community. Reefkeepers' projects survey marine plants on the final pass, after the animals have been surveyed.

Four taxonomic groups, or groups of closely related species, represent marine plants: three groups of non-vascular plants (algae) and the vascular plants - related to terrestrial plants such as grasses. Algae dominate hard substrate reefs, while vascular plants are only found in softer substrates, such as sandy bottoms.

Algae are divided into three groups according to their primary pigment (colour), chemicals used to collect energy from the sun during photosynthesis. The three groups are brown algae (Phaeophyta), red algae (Rhodophyta), and green algae (Chlorophyta). The group with the largest and most commonly seen species is the brown algae, which includes bull kelp (Nereocystis), seen in the picture above.

We cannot show all of the marine plant species here. Our intent is to provide a general overview of the plants and some ideas on where you can find reference materials with the appropriate information. These references take many forms, including relevant Internet sites, identification guidebooks, or experts (called 'phycologists') in the field, whose help you may want to enlist for your project.

Here are some web sites that may help you:

B.C. Creature Page (
Algae: The Forgotten Treasure of Tidepools (
Live Kelp Cam (

For more information on how to identify marine plants, see the following identification guide books:

Kozlof, E.N. (1993). Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast: An Illustrated Guide to Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. University of Washington Press, Seattle, Washington.

Scagel, R.F. (1971). Guide to Common Seaweeds of British Columbia. British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria. (out of print)