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Due to a combination of over fishing and climate change, the humble sea urchin has reproduced unhindered, overgrazing kelp forests throughout the world. Kelp forests that used to support over 700 different species of marine life, provide continuous carbon sequestration and protection from erosion and acidification, are now becoming lifeless, desert-like rock barrens. After grazing down kelp forests, the urchins remain alive. Starved and empty, they become valueless for fishers as well as uninteresting to eat among the few predators that remain. This barren state, where empty urchins dominate and hinder the regrowth of kelp forests, can last for decades or even centuries. Studies have shown that removing overgrazing sea urchins will bring back the kelp forests in as short as 3 months. However, it has been difficult to put the science into practice due to the high costs of clearing urchins with divers and limited funding to pay for such efforts.
Urchinomics is working to reverse this trend by turning overgrazing sea urchins from a pest into an economic, ecologic and social development opportunity. Divers collect overgrazing, empty, valueless urchins from the sea, and re-home them in our proprietary land-based urchin ranching systems. We feed them a sustainably produced feed for 6 to 12 weeks, turn the empty urchins into “uni”, or sea urchin roe, and sell them to high end seafood distributors around the world. By turning destructive urchins into one of the world´s most sought after, premium seafood, we can help restore kelp forests, which in turn brings back biodiversity, sequesters carbon, reduces coastal erosion, dampens the effects of ocean acidification, and creates meaningful jobs in rural, coastal communities, all while generating revenues to support further coastal restoration efforts.