The kelp forests of California are one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems in the state, providing a home to more than 800 species of plants and animals. 2 Beginning in 2013, a “perfect storm” of kelp stressors led to the loss of more than 93 percent of the bull kelp along the coast of Northern California.
A sea urchin dubbed the “cockroach of the ocean” has almost completely destroyed the kelp forests off the coast of Northern California — endangering the regions biodiversity and local economy. And it's all because of climate change.
Early on a gray summer Saturday, an unusual assemblage — commercial fishermen, recreational boaters, neoprene-clad divers — gathered for a mission at Albion Cove, a three-hour drive north of San Francisco.
Too many purple sea urchins and not enough bull kelp continues to stymie California’s red urchin dive industry. Since the one-two punch of El Niño and the warm-water blob in 2016, bull kelp beds have declined by 93 percent from previous years, according to a study by the California Fish and Game Commission.
Sea urchins hit all the taste pleasure points – salt, sweet and umami. In a lot of places, sea urchins are overfished, but that certainly isn't the case off the coast of California, where there's such an overabundance of purple sea urchins that it has become an aquacultural concern.