Ecklonia maxima is known to occur along the coast of mainland South Africa and Namibia, the island of St Helena (Atlantic Ocean), St Paul Island (Indian Ocean), the Falkland Islands and Islas Malvinas near South America, and the Auckland Islands near Australia and New Zealand. Except for South Africa and Namibia, very little is known about the biology of the kelp in these regions. Even in South Africa, little is known about the population size frequency distribution. Considering the maximum length of the species, an early report by George Papenfuss (1942) states that “plants may attain a length of seven meters or more from base of stipe to tips of longest pinnae” and more recently Stegenga, Bolton, and Anderson (1997) state that it attains lengths of up to 15 m.
Certainly we know that very longer plants exist, for example the 10.41 m and 9.90 m individuals recently collected at Betty’s Bay, and the somewhat shorter 8.73 m long plant from just off Baboon Rock in False Bay. Local divers speak of very tall plants off the tip of the Cape Peninsula, with unconfirmed reports of 12 to 15 m specimens in the vicinity of Southwestern Reefs, Anvil Rock and Bellows.
Over the course of the next few weeks we will undertake mini-expeditions to these reefs to assess the population structure of Ecklonia there. Not only will we gain new insight into the biology of the plants, but also about the structure and composition of the communities associated with these kelp forests.