Coral reef ecosystems are severely threatened by pollution, disease, overharvesting, and other factors. For thousands of years, long-spined sea urchins helped keep reefs intact. They eat seaweed, which can kill or seriously damage coral. Without coral, reefs suffer severe consequences, including diminished ability to support fish.
In the mid-1980s, more than 90% of the urchins that crawled the coral reefs in the western Atlantic and the Caribbean died for reasons scientists have yet to determine. The population of the long-spined sea urchin – known scientifically as Diadema antillarum — has been slow to recover on its own. That’s why scientists, including Josh Patterson, are stepping up their efforts to enhance urchin populations.
“You could call these urchins the lawn mowers of the reefs,” said Patterson, a UF/IFAS associate professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences. “They eat fleshy seaweeds that grow out of control on coral reefs and ultimately smother the corals.”Learn more about UF Research Shows a Step Toward Restoring Sea Urchins: ‘The Lawnmowers of Reefs’