Sea urchins are secret weapon used to fight invasive seaweed

Published  10:39 PM HST Aug 14, 2013
HONOLULU -

Funding from the military's Port Royal Trust Fund is now being used to continue coral reef restoration in Kaneohe Bay.

Sea urchins are the secret weapon to fish off destructive, invasive seaweed. The entire process from larvae to mature sea urchins is done right in the hatchery at Anuenue Fisheries Research Center in Honolulu. Native sea urchins are being used to fight invasive seaweed that's destroying the reef in Kaneohe Bay.

"The algae was introduced in the 1970s and it took about 15 to 20 years for us to start seeing a real problem in the bay," said David Cohen with the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

First, this super sucker was built and used to suck up a lot of the bad seaweed, but environmentalists realized this was just a quick band aide for a much bigger problem, so they employed a second punch: sea urchins.

"We needed something else to follow up after the algae was removed and that's when we started testing these sea urchins. They are native to Hawaii, the Collector sea urchin," said program leader Jonathan Blodgett.

Since 2011, about 2,000 to 5,000 of these are placed into the bay almost every other week.

It's the only hatchery in the world producing these urchins for restoration purposes, a costly project partly funded through an accident that destroyed massive amounts of coral on another part of the island. Back in 2009 the USS Port Royal ran aground off Honolulu International airport now $600,000 from the Port Royal Trust Fund is helping these waters.

"If we have healthy corals we've got lots of space in among the reef which provides extra habitat for other fish and other organisms to grow," said Cohen.

The hope is to remove enough invasive seaweed and replacing it with native urchins, and eventually native seaweed to promote a healthy ecosystem. That project is expected to be ongoing for a couple more years. There are also invasive seaweeds off of Waikiki that project leaders are looking into.

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