Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is an urchin barrens?
A: An urchin barren is an area of seafloor where the population growth of sea urchins has gone unchecked, causing destructive grazing of kelp beds or kelp forests.

Q: How many continents are affected by urchin barrens?
A: Urchin barrens have been documented on 6 of 7 continents (Antarctica excluded).1

Q: How much coastline is affected by urchin barrens?
A: Over 13,000 kilometers of coastline have been documented to experience urchin barrens.1

Q: Where does kelp grow?
A: Kelp thrives in cold, nutrient-rich waters. Because kelp attaches to the seafloor and eventually grows to the water’s surface and relies on sunlight to generate food and energy, kelp forests are always coastal and require shallow, relatively clear water. Generally speaking, kelps live further from the tropics than coral reefs, mangrove forests, and warm-water seagrass beds, so kelp forests do not overlap with those systems. Like those systems, though, kelp forests provide important three-dimensional, underwater habitat that is home to hundreds or thousands of species of invertebrates, fishes, and other algae.2

Q: Aside from its natural purpose, what else can kelp do?
A: Kelp can be used as a source of fertilizers and soil conditioners, animal feed, fish feed, part of integrated aquaculture, and for wastewater treatment.3

Q: How do people use kelp?
A: Kelp is used to make many products: toothpastes, shampoos, salad dressings, puddings, cakes, dairy products, frozen foods, and even pharmaceuticals.4

Q: Who are your customers?
A: Anyone trying to preserve or restore healthy kelp forest affected by urchin overpopulation (eg. governments, fisheries, kelp harvesters). Also, anyone desiring near-real time marine stock data (eg. researchers, marine policy makers, fisheries).

Q: How long does it take to restore a kelp forest?
A: Once natural urchin balance is restored, kelp forest can begin to appear in 3 to 6 months.

Q: What are the natural predators of urchin, and what happened to them?
A: Depending on the location, otters, lobster, fish, crabs, and even humans (SUSHI!) are natural predators of urchin. Marine conditions (ie. water temp, chemical composition), overfishing, and natural storms can cause natural predators to be removed from a ecosystem and lead to urchin barren conditions.

Q: Why cant the urchin barrens just be harvested for sushi (UNI)?
A: Unfortunately, when urchin barren conditions occur, the reduced food source condition causes the urchin reproductive organs (eg. where the UNI form of sushi comes from) to decrease their activity, and greatly reduces their value for human consumption.

1 Filbee-Dexter & Scheibling, "Sea urchin barrens as alternative stable states of collapsed kelp ecosystems", 2014
2 Oceana.org
5 Claisse et al, "Kelp forest habitat restoration has the potential to increase sea urchin gonad biomass", 2013

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