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Sea Urchins Chow Down to Save Hawaii Coral Reefs

March 3, 2017

Can tiny sea urchins save a Hawaiian coral reef? In Oahu’s Kaneohe Bay, with a little help from restoration experts, it appears they can.

For decades, Kaneohe Bay has been plagued by invasive algae that blanket the native coral reefs, blocking the sun. With our partners, we developed two methods to destroy the invaders: vacuuming them up, and releasing hungry native sea urchins to munch them away.

Hundreds of thousands of baby Hawaiian collector sea urchins have been released into targeted areas of the bay to gorge on the algae invaders. Although native to the bay, the collector sea urchin population was too low to battle the invasive algae. Officials developed a sea urchin hatchery in 2011 to help grow the urchin population and combat the algae issue.

The State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources, the Nature Conservancy and NOAA created the Kaneohe Bay restoration plan. Funds for the project came from the settlement of the 2005 grounding of the ship M/V Cape Flattery on the coral reefs south of Oahu. Learn more about this project through a video on the creation of the sea urchin hatchery.

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