Urchins vs Kelp

Stefan Andrews

Great Southern Reef Foundation

Great Southern Reef Foundation

In the cool waters off Tasmania, the golden kelp forests of Ecklonia radiata stand as vital underwater cities, hosting a myriad of marine life. These towering seaweeds create complex environments where diverse oceanic communities can thrive. However, within these lush kelp canopies, a subtle drama unfolds, driven by the long-spined sea urchin. Once confined to more northern waters, these urchins have been venturing southward along the east coast, reaching as far as Tasmania, altering ecosystems in their wake.

In balanced ecosystems, these urchins play a crucial role, grazing on algae and helping to maintain the health of the kelp forests by preventing overgrowth. This delicate balance ensures the vitality of the habitat, allowing for the continuous renewal of life within these golden canopies. Yet, this balance is precarious. When urchin populations swell beyond their natural checks, their grazing can turn from beneficial to destructive. The stark, barren rocks at the base of the kelp in Tasmania bear witness to such overgrazing, where excessive urchin activity has stripped the area of its algal diversity, preventing new seaweeds from taking hold.

This phenomenon, known as "urchin barren", represents a significant shift in the ecosystem. The once vibrant kelp forest, teeming with life, can be transformed into a desolate underwater desert, void of the rich biodiversity it once supported. This scenario underscores the intricate connections within marine ecosystems, where the increase or decrease of a single species can ripple through the community, leading to profound changes. As these long-spined urchins continue their march southward, the challenge for marine biologists and conservationists is to understand and manage these shifts, ensuring the resilience of these crucial underwater habitats.


Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more

Flash this QR Code to get the app
Google apps