From giant kelp forests to marine plants tucked away in tiny tide pools, the Pacific Northwest is a fantastic place to find seaweeds of all kinds. Whether you’re foraging for edible seaweed, a keen marine biologist, or simply want to identify the species washed up on the beach, a seaweed field guide will help to open up the world of these marine plants and algae with all the information you’ll ever need.
There are a number of different seaweed field guides for the Pacific Northwest out there, each offering something different — some are almost like encyclopedias, others are closer in size to pamphlets. These field guides will help you identify all kinds of seaweed species, from oddly-shaped bladderwrack and sea staghorn to massive bull kelp and feather boas.
Whether you’re a complete amateur, searching for a gift, or in the market for an identification guide for your new love of culinary seaweed, the books listed below are some of the best Pacific Northwest seaweed field guides out there right now. Grab one of these books and head to the ocean to ID some seaweeds!
What Are the Top Seaweed Field Guides for the Pacific Northwest?
- Pacific Seaweeds – by Louis Druehl & Bridgette Clarkston
- The New Beachcomber’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest – by J. Duane Sept
- Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest – by Andy Lamb and Bernard Hanby
- Seaweeds of the Pacific Coast: Common Marine Algae from Alaska to Baja California – by Jennifer and Jeff Mondragon
- The Science and Spirit of Seaweed – by Amanda Swinimer
- A Field Guide to Seaweeds of the Pacific Northwest – by Dr. Bridgette Clarkston
- Pacific Reef and Shore: A Photo Guide to Northwest Marine Life – by Rick M. Harbo
Want to identify more than just seaweeds? Check out our article on the best seashore field guides for the Pacific Northwest!
Pacific Seaweeds – by Louis Druehl & Bridgette Clarkston
Pacific Seaweeds by Louis Druehl and Bridgette Clarkson takes readers through the wonderful world of seaweeds in the Pacific Northwest. Originally published in 2016, this book is the new and improved expanded version, and is incredibly useful for any seaweed enthusiast.
Packed with colorful photographs and detailed illustrations, this useful guide makes over 150 species easy to identify. For each species, the authors provide high-quality photos, illustrations of notable features, and descriptions of identifying features, habitats, distributions and other interesting facts.
Not only is this an identification guide — Pacific Seaweeds covers all aspects of seaweed life, from the very basics to the ecological importance of seaweed as a whole. They even include some seaweed recipes for foragers!
For a Pacific Northwest field guide exclusively about seaweeds, this is probably your best choice! Indeed, for the quality of the photos, the accurate and detailed information, and the ease of identifying species with it, this book is our top pick on this list of the best seaweed field guides for the Pacific Northwest.
The New Beachcomber’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest – by J. Duane Sept
The New Beachcomber’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest by J. Duane Sept is one of our favorite seashore field guides and is perfect for anyone wanting to identify common seaweeds and other marine creatures found along the coastlines of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Northern California and Southeast Alaska.
A recently revised and expanded edition, this book is up-to-date and includes hundreds of species from the Pacific Northwest. Species outlined include sea stars, seaweeds, sponges, clams, snails, crabs, jellies, sea anemones and various fish, among other species, helping any beachcomber — from casual to veteran — easily identify almost any sea life they might encounter along the shoreline.
Comprising 416 pages of detailed descriptions and colour photographs, this book describes each species with essential information, including descriptions, size, habitat, range, and other notes. The author also shares some of the best places to go beachcombing, as well as useful information about intertidal habitat types, harvesting shellfish, and more!
Can’t decide on the best field guide for identifying seaweeds and other seashore marine life? We highly recommend this book! Accurate, detailed, and comprehensive, it does a great job of helping you identify everything you might come across at the beach.
Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest – by Andy Lamb and Bernard Hanby
Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest by Andy Lamb and Bernard Hanby is one of the best field guide reference books for identifying not only seaweed, but also marine invertebrates and a selection of fishes. While the book covers a wide range of taxa, it still includes a good number of seaweed species, divided into their habitats (e.g. subtidal) and phylums (e.g. Rhodophyta).
In terms of size, this 398-page long book may not be the best seaweed field guide if you’re looking for something to carry in your pockets during your Pacific Northwest adventures. But, it is one of the go-to book for anyone who wants to learn about and identify marine life in this region.
Perfect for readers of all skill levels, this book will help you easily identify coastal organisms from Southern Alaska to Oregon. Every listed species has been summarized with helpful text, accompanied by a photograph. In fact, there are 1,700 colour photographs included and details on over 1,400 species!
Seaweeds of the Pacific Coast: Common Marine Algae from Alaska to Baja California – by Jennifer and Jeff Mondragon
Seaweeds of the Pacific Coast by Jennifer and Jeff Mondragon covers a vast stretch of coastline stretching from Baja California all the way to Alaska, USA, providing details and descriptions to help you identify the 128 species of seaweed found along these shores.
When using this guide, there is a basic quick-key to help you determine which phylum section you should flip to — Chlorophyta (green algae), Phaeophyta (brown algae), Rhodophyta (red algae), or Anthophyta (marine flowering plants). Each species has at least one photo to help you identify it, as well as a description on diagnostic features and ecological information. Additionally, the book also covers seaweed anatomy, ecology, habitats, uses, and other information like edibility and recipes.
One downside of this book is that some of the illustrations are not the best representations of the species and there is often only one photo per species, making it difficult to match the seaweed you found with the book’s reference photos. While generally useful, this book may be a better backup to other more comprehensive guides.
The Science and Spirit of Seaweed – by Amanda Swinimer
The Science and Spirit of Seaweed by Amanda Swinimer is a well-rounded deep dive into the world of seaweed in the Pacific Northwest. Based out of Vancouver Island’s west coast, Swinimer has a degree in marine biology and owns a business involving hand-harvesting seaweed from the beaches and kelp forests close to her home.
The author takes readers through the lives of these ancient living organisms, firstly detailing the basics of seaweeds and how to harvest them sustainably, before covering over 20 common species. Each species has high quality photos and a description covering basic identifying features, as well as edibility and other ecological information.
Written by a forager, this is one of the best field guides for foraging seaweed in the Pacific Northwest. The book covers edibility of common species, sustainable harvesting tips, medicinal benefits and other uses of seaweeds, and a number of seaweed recipes. Overall, this book is an excellent guide for anyone interested in coastal foraging, but should be paired with a second field guide for species’ verifications if you plan on eating anything!
A Field Guide to Seaweeds of the Pacific Northwest – by Dr. Bridgette Clarkston
A Field Guide to Seaweeds of the Pacific Northwest by Dr. Bridgette Clarkston is perfect for anyone wanting a compact, transportable field guide. Not only is it pocket-sized, but it’s also waterproof, making this a practical companion for beachcombing and foraging.
Though it’s more of a pamphlet than a book, this guide is packed full of vibrant photography and information necessary to identify the most common, interesting, and important seaweeds of the Pacific Northwest, like rockweed and sea cabbage. Some of the photographs might be a bit small though — just remember, all of this information is packed into a portable brochure!
While mostly including information to help with species’ IDs, the pamphlet also answers questions like “What are seaweeds?” and “Where do seaweeds live?” to help you better understand these marine plants. It also describes some common seaweed shapes and structures, like the blade and stipe, as well as branching patterns.
If you like using a pamphlet, this is a great choice for you! For those seeking a book field guide, look elsewhere though.
Pacific Reef and Shore: A Photo Guide to Northwest Marine Life – by Rick M. Harbo
Pacific Reef and Shore: A Photo Guide to Northwest Marine Life by Rick M. Harbo covers a vast section of North American coastline along the Pacific Ocean, from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to Point Conception in California.
For those wanting to identify all kinds of marine life, this reference guide is a great choice. This compact but comprehensive guide covers over 300 species, with everything from fishes to crustaceans, including a selection of seaweed species. Each species entry has a photograph or illustration, paired with in-depth descriptions that provide information on size, identifying features, habitat, ecology and more.
The small size of this book makes it very useful, allowing you to identify seaweeds right at the beach rather than waiting to get home to use the too-large-to-bring reference books. However, this book doesn’t cover all the seaweed species you might encounter — advanced readers may require a second, more comprehensive seaweed field guide for identifying the less common species out there.