Laguna Beach KelpFest offers sea of information for would-be ocean stewards

Judy Teverbaugh, left, and Susie McDuffy, from Laguna Bluebelt, participate in KelpFest at Laguna Beach's Main Beach.
Judy Teverbaugh, left, and Susie McDuffy, from the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, set up a net with paper fish during Saturday’s KelpFest at Laguna Beach’s Main Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Most people who live in Laguna Beach, or grew up exploring its 7-mile coastline, understand the vital role kelp plays in the local ecosystem as a buffer against erosion, a carbon neutralizer and refuge for sea life.

But for visitors who may crowd the city’s beaches each summer, soaking up the sun with little awareness of the vast kelp forests beneath the ocean’s surface, an educational opportunity presented itself Saturday in the annual KelpFest.

Hosted by the nonprofit Laguna Ocean Foundation and held on the cobblestones at Main Beach, the festival teaches attendees the importance of restoring and preserving Orange County coastlines through activities, demonstrations and projects for all ages.


A youngster eyes a toy shark at an educational display during the 2023 KelpFest in Laguna Beach Saturday.
A youngster eyes a toy shark at an educational display Saturday during KelpFest, an annual ocean awareness event held at Laguna Beach’s Main Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Wendy Berube, education and outreach coordinator for the foundation, says Laguna Beach is the perfect location for the educational effort.

“All of Laguna Beach is a Marine Protected Area — it’s the highest level of protection there is,” she said Tuesday. “And the kelp forest has the same protection.”

Visitors Saturday got a chance to learn about sharks and marine mammals by inspecting jawbones, skulls and the bristly baleen that allows non-toothed whales to filter tiny krill and plankton they eat.

Booths set up by participating organizations, including Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Orange County Coastkeeper, O.C. Habitats, Aquarium of the Pacific and an array of local artists attracted more than 500 attendees to the park over a four-hour period.

KelpFest was first held in 2010 and organized by Nancy Caruso, who now works with students growing kelp and raising abalone through the nonprofit Get Inspired, and Mike Beanan, founder of the marine restoration group the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, a participant in Saturday’s event.

Kelp took center stage at KelpFest Saturday in Laguna Beach, an ocean awareness event hosted by the Laguna Ocean Foundation.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

It was intended to celebrate a years-long effort by local environmental groups and residents working together to restore Laguna Beach’s kelp forests, which had previously been reduced by 80%, to a health and density not seen in more than two decades.

The pair handed over the organization of the annual festival in 2016 to Laguna Ocean Foundation, which has continued to spread awareness and education for people whose activities and explorations could inadvertently harm sensitive marine areas and the species that live there.

“When you’re walking at the tide pools, you may be stepping on plants or animals,” Berube said. “Or kids might poke sea anemones, not knowing they can’t eat for 24 hours after that.”

Participating in a festival is an easy and fun way to impart lessons about environmental stewardship and expose people to an ecosystem they may have never had a chance to see in person, according to Berube.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet up with all the different groups that are working toward the same thing,” she said.

A pod of dolphins swim inshore Saturday to the delight of beachgoers during KelpFest, at Laguna Beach's Main Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)