Algologies: The Red Weed

Fine Red Seaweed, Ulva intestinalis (Gutweed Chlorophyta) with and Fucus vesticulosus (Bladderwrack) on Large Pebbles at the Undercliff (August 2020) (Photo: Anna Dumitriu)

Someone told me recently that if someone is imprisoned long enough they will start to find anything interesting.

This was a response to me describing how my interest in seaweed emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and travel bans. Walking daily on the Undercliff path I started to notice the changing seaweed ecosystem…

…I think I first properly noticed the seaweed one day in August 2020. I was walking on the Undercliff, trying to get away from all the people doing their ‘daily exercise’ on the path and I gingerly descended some slippery steps to reach a nice, quiet, isolated (and pretty inaccessible) area and all of a sudden I noticed that all the huge pebbles on the beach were covered with pink or green weed, as if some local yarn bomber had just been along and wrapped them with threads.

Fine Red Seaweed and Ulva intestinalis (Gutweed Chlorophyta) on Large Pebbles at the Undercliff (August 2020) (Photo: Anna Dumitriu)

Left to my own devices away from people I could experience this alien landscape, so reminiscent of H.G. Wells description of the red Martian lanscape in his famous book War of the Worlds:

“the red weed rotted like a thing already dead. The fronds became bleached, and then shrivelled and brittle. They broke off at the least touch, and the waters that had stimulated their early growth carried their last vestiges out to sea.”

Fine Red Seaweed, and Ulva intestinalis (Gutweed Chlorophyta) on Large Pebbles at the Undercliff (August 2020). (Photo: Anna Dumitriu)

As Wells lived not so far away, in Woking to be precise, and spent his summers in Midhurst one wonders if the red weed in his text might be the very weed that also impressed me. According to the Brighton Argus there is some speculation that the Martians’ tripods in War of the Worlds are based on the tripod structure of the Volks’ Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway, nicknamed Daddy Long Legs. This was sited at the Undercliff and the scars of the tracks are still visible at low tide.

I propose we might also consider the Undercliff as inspiration for the red Martian landscape. A poignant thought as we fight our own battles with microbes during this pandemic.

The Scars of the Tracks of Volk’s Daddy Long Legs (which may or may not have inspired H.G. Wells) at dusk (also August 2020) (Photo: Anna Dumitriu)

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