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Covid’s Impact on Kelp Conservation

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

Covid-19 has been a terror all across the world although people have been underestimating the effects of coronavirus under the waves. 2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year for not only us but the kelp forests as well. Kelp is a plant that grows in massive quantities and a century ago blanketed the coasts of California. Its numbers have steadily been declining since as studies have shown bull kelp numbers dro

pping over 90% in the last 5 years. This sharp decreases’ main culprit is the purple sea urchin. This spiky shellfish usually eats stray parts of kelp that fall off of the main stalk however due to their natural predator, starfish, recently experiencing a mysterious disease that wiped a large portion of them out., they are spreading like a wildfire. The purple sea urchins reproduce incredibly quickly and a female can produce over 500 MILLION eggs in her lifetime. They are only consumed by sea otters, starfish, and sheepshead and none of these species come even close to competing with the numbers of urchins. Also, only starfish mainly consum

e them while sheepshead and otters will opt for a different selection of food. People obviously began to take notice as the sea urchins devoured the main stalks of kelp spreading out and leaving “Urchin Barren” patches of the seafloor in their wake. Because kelp is so important being a habitat for over 800 species of marine life multiple organizations and individuals began making an effort to replant kelp and removing urchins as best they could. People like John Holcomb, an abalone diver, even went as far as creating massive vacuums to suck sea urchins into, removing over 1,000,000 a week. The main issue with this was that there was nothing to do with all of the urchins. Among the very limited amount of people that do eat sea urchin (despite its delicious taste) most are actually eating red sea urchin which is the larger and meatier big brother of the purple urchin. People came up with unique ways of tackling this problem such as sending them to Japan where urchin is a known delicacy and putting them into a controlled environment to farm them and fatten them up for a better eating experience. Things were getting better with more and more people getting in on saving the kelp; this was o

f course until the Covid-19 pandemic struck the world. After about march of 2020 almost all dive shops had to stop diving activities. Some of these businesses made it out when the curve started to flatten, but some didn’t. This closed down multiple locations that were helping to stabilize the kelp numbers. Conservation was not and still isn’t the thing on the government’s mind during this crisis and the kelp is taking the fall for it. So for next time that you go to a seafood restaurant, you can help that cause and try an urchin.

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