thomas m wilson

A Haul of Sea Grapes

February 1st, 2010

DSC_0027.JPGThis morning I woke up, post-party induced sleep still in my eyes, and after a short drive with my friend Steve, walked into the sea.  I was walking into the water at Cottesloe with around fifteen friends who were joining me and a friend, Rainbo Dixon, Murdoch University doctoral candidate and underwater botanist extraordinaire, for a tour of some of the species of sea vegetables you can munch on.  Rainbo is doing a PhD on sea plants and their taxonomy and genetics, and happens to have also studied which of these salty greens you can eat.  I convinced her to share some of her knowledge.

It was good to walk down onto the sand by the limestone crags and drop our stuff, then walk over the hot sand into the cool blue with your mask and snorkel.  I went out a few hundred metres to a line of limestone reef where the water was clearer and, pulled down by my weight belt, I flew along through the water, just above the waving terraces of sea grass, brown, orange and green.  It was like a heath or a forest, now I looked at all this life for once as my prime focus.  Normally I’m more focused on fish or coral or shells, but today, passing above the sea bottom, my eyes were scanned the fans and threads of  underwater plant life.  Looking for sea grapes I discovered how hard it was to find a good, large stand of this plant to pick from.  The warm, mid-summer temperature water passed over my skin, cool under my arms, slipping and streaming off my swimming hands and fingers as I beat my way forward with my my fins.  Now I was more aware of the way in which the bottom of the sea changes with every metre passed.  Now a large kelp, now a calcified, bright green leaf, now a dense and faded purple bush…

I didn’t want to go back to the shore.  I was enjoying the search for new plants and the warm, sheltering, enveloping water too much.

Eventually I walked up onto the sand with a treasured haul.  We each took back a small sample of some of the more interesting plants we’d seen, and, on a bench in the shade of a picnic awning, spread out our various finds.


These are some of the things the taxonomic wiz kid Rainbo told us we could happily toss into a salad.

These sea grapes are good…  Caulerpa racemosa


But not these (Caulerpa cactoides).  Notice that these divide at the start of each stem…


This is good…  Laurencia species (notice that the branch tips are swollen and end abruptly).


And this is good…. Hypnea species with fine spiky ends.


And this is good…