Story by John Vonderlin
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It is called the Pincushion of the Sea, or Astroturf of the Ocean, or Tuft Algae. It is Cladophora Columbiana. Despite being relatively common in the low to mid-intertidal zone its classification is a taxonomic battleground. Apparently the size of the balls that wash ashore are a good indication of the health of the intertidal zone.
In Japan, Aegagropila enjoy somewhat of a “cult” following. A certain lake in Hokkaido is known to form especially perfect Cladophora balls, which the local “Aidic” people involve in their summer festival. A folktale accompanies the dense green spheres, in which the hearts of a young couple who drown in the lake turn into Cladophora balls. Aegagropila’s popularity in Japan has even spread to more urban areas. Tokyo has a bar named “Marimba,” the Japanese word for the balls, which sells plastic souvenirs in the the shape of the popular alga. In recent years, aegagropilous Cladophora has even become a protected species in Japan, and a Cladophora ball postage stamp has been issued.