Australia’s coastal ecosystems are being invaded by Australia’s native marine animals whose numbers are now booming. Sea urchin populations have increased dramatically in recent decades, particularly in Port Phillip Bay around Melbourne. Scientists are now asking divers for help to solve the problem.
Several marine ecologists appear to be getting ready to dive for an environmental mission while catching sea urchins for dinner.
Dr Paul Carnell, a marine ecologist from Deakin University said: “Sea urchins move past these reefs. Sometimes they are so densely packed that it almost resembles a small army advancing together and clearing everything in their path. “
These animals eat seaweed. However, sea urchins can also destroy large quantities of kelp or large seaweeds of the brown algae type if the number of these animals is so large.
Dr. Carnell adds, “Kelp is the forest of the ocean. If you lose those trees, if you lose kelp, you lose all other biodiversity, and you lose a lot of fish species.”
The 500-hectare coral reef in the bay has been affected by sea urchins. However, this problem can be overcome.
Dr. Carnell said: “We’ve seen areas where we can reduce sea urchin numbers, we’re really seeing kelp and seaweed recovery on coral reefs.”
Scientists say the wastewater discharged into Port Phillip Bay previously contained nutrients, which then led to a rise in kelp and an explosion in sea urchin populations.
But stricter environmental standards, combined with a series of droughts, have shrunk the kelp in the bay, allowing the sea urchins to invade new territory to find food.
In Japanese culture, sea urchin eggs, called uni, are widely consumed. Chef Johnson Teoh explains, “It’s a staple for them. It’s one of the top three foodstuffs consumed every year.”
A restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, offers a special dish of sea urchin. Increasing local demand for sea urchins is not always easy.
Jessica Teoh, a restaurant owner said, “Not many Australians know about sea urchins, and every time we tell them about sea urchins they always say no.”
But the market is still there, namely people who want to eat environmentally friendly foods.
Chef Johnson Teoh says, “It’s very important to protect the environment. Knowing that sea urchins are a pest in Australia, I became even more determined to eradicate them.”
Carnell wants those who are recreational diving in Port Phillip Bay to help collect a bag of sea urchins to feed themselves.
Carnell added, “We can eat it and at the same time help solve environmental problems.”
They hope that the problem can be solved by serving the sea urchins on the menu. [lj/uh]