Our Urchinomics process is revolutionising the aquaculture industry as it targets the Biological, Economic and Ecological factors which need to be addressed if fundamental change is to be made in how business in conducted. 

 

 
 Urchins uprooting kelp from its holdfast. Photo: Chris Nelson

Urchins uprooting kelp from its holdfast. Photo: Chris Nelson

 

Overfishing of predatory species like lobsters, crabs and cod from the worlds oceans has unleashed a population explosion of sea urchins, spiny invertebrates that have decimated some of the world's most productive kelp forests.

After destroying the kelp forests and collapsing its dependent food chain, urchins draw down on their energy reserves stored in their roe sacs, and starve until a new food source grows or floats by. 

 
 An empty sea urchin. Photo: Noriko Hayashi

An empty sea urchin. Photo: Noriko Hayashi

 

As a result of years of starvation, the urchins have little or no roe in them, making them unattractive for predators to eat or for humans to catch and make into sea urchin roe, one of the world´s most exclusive seafood products also known as ‘Uni’. 

If nothing is done, urchins will occupy once productive kelp forests, keep them barren for decades or even centuries, and likely expand to new kelp forests to ravage. 


Our Solution

Kelp Restoration

 
 An urchin diver gathering urchins.

An urchin diver gathering urchins.

 

We engage fishers, ecologists and scientists to identify and remove empty, unproductive urchins that hinder kelp forests from recovering. 

Once urchins are removed, nature takes over and kelp begins to grow. In as short as 5 days, juvenile kelp will begin to settle on the substrate, with some species then growing as fast as 18 inches per day until reaching the surface. 

The restoration of the kelp marks the beginning of the recovery of the entire ecosystem. 

The kelp blades attract microscopic organisms that feast on, amongst others, sea urchin larvae. This helps to keep urchin numbers in balance with nature and prevents destructive population explosions in the future.

In turn, these organisms become prey to small fish, who prefer to hide in 3 dimensional habitats like kelp forests. Later, these small fish become prey to the larger fish, who settle in kelp forests to lay their eggs.

In short order, the desert like urchin barren returns to its original state as a dynamic kelp forest, significantly increasing the biomass and biodiversity of marine life.


Urchin Ranching

 
 Urchins with feed. Photo: Kita Murasaki

Urchins with feed. Photo: Kita Murasaki

 

The removed, empty urchins from the barrens are then re-homed into our sea or land based ranching facilities,
where they are fed a nutritionally balanced, plant-based natural feed to grow their roe. 

 
 A urchin full of roe. Photo: Noriko Hayashi

A urchin full of roe. Photo: Noriko Hayashi

 

After 6 to 10 weeks of feeding, the urchins become plump and full of roe for discerning foodies to enjoy.


Carbon Binding and Sequestration

 
 Kelp restoration 9 days (left frame) and 24 days (right frame) after urchin clearing. Video Stills: The Bay Foundation.

Kelp restoration 9 days (left frame) and 24 days (right frame) after urchin clearing. Video Stills: The Bay Foundation.

 

Kelp forests are being re-discovered as a potent source of carbon binding and sequestration by climate scientists around the world. 

The restoration of kelp contributes to the binding and sequestration of atmospheric carbon in many ways. 

First, the regime shift from barren desert to kelp forest results in a one-time sequestration of carbon in the form of the kelp forest itself. 

 
 A vibrant kelp forest. Photo: Chris Nelson.

A vibrant kelp forest. Photo: Chris Nelson.

 

Second, the kelp forest becomes a 3 dimensional habitat and food source for a wide variety of marine life. Each new organism growing and living in the kelp forest represents the binding of carbon in the form of marine life. 

Third, a majority of the blades that are shed from the kelp each season drifts down to the deep ocean and gets buried in the sediment. Scientists believe this constant shedding and sequestration to be one of the greatest contributors of carbon sequestration in the oceans.   


Job Creation

 
JobCreation2.jpg
 

The removal of empty, barren urchins also creates new jobs at our land and sea-based ranches. Combined with this, the return of fish to once urchin dominated, desert-like waters entails renewed economic activity in rural, coastal communities. 

By creating meaningful employment opportunities, we begin to tackle one of the fundamental causes of overfishing: economics. 

Overfishing is a vicious circle. In overfished waters, coastal fishers have little choice but to travel farther from the coast to catch a dwindling number of fish just to provide enough for their family. 

By providing a better economic alternative, while also improving the fishing conditions for others, we aim to tackle the long-term causes of overfishing and therefore one of the root causes of urchin barren proliferation.