Sea urchins play an important role in the ocean’s ecosystems, but scientists say their numbers have dwindled drastically since the 1980s when a mysterious disease struck.
“It came likely came through the mouth of the Panama Canal, and within a few years had spread sort of throughout the entire Caribbean and wiped out 95% of the urchin populations, one of the biggest mass mortality events that really has been recorded in marine animals,” University of Florida Professor Josh Patterson said.
Patterson stated that sea urchins eat and clean an algae type that is competitive with coral and are a major reason for the decline in coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean.
Patterson and his team want to increase their numbers by growing urchins on the land and then releasing them into sea.
“It’s extremely ambitious to think that, that we could get these urchins back to these really high densities that they were at,”He said.
“But if we were able to do that, I would certainly feel comfortable saying that it would help the reefs recover.”