Sea urchin explosion off California, Oregon decimates kelp

NEWPORT, Ore. (AP) — An explosion of purple sea urchins that destroyed underwater kelp forests off the California coast is now hitting Oregon.

Numbers released by Oregon’s wildlife agency show 350 million of the urchins on one reef in southern Oregon alone — a 10,450% increase since 2014.

The purple urchins have devoured all the kelp, killing off important fisheries for red abalone and red sea urchins in California and Oregon.

Now, a coalition of scientists, ecologists and private business interests is trying to harvest the unwanted purple sea urchins and transfer them to sea urchin “ranches.” The urchins are fattened up at the ranches for sale to a global seafood market.

Scientists aren’t yet sure if climate change is responsible for the purple sea urchin explosion. But they suspect it plays a role in the cascade of events that allowed the purple urchins to boom.

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Chea reported from Mendocino County, California.

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