California’s kelp forests are being ravaged by sea urchins. The solution? Eat them.

Image Credit: NOAA.

Kelp forests, which are vital to much marine life, have been ravaged by sea urchins, which an estimated 95% of California’s kelp forests gone. The best solution? To eat them. Normally, sea urchins, or uni, would be considered a pricey, Japanese delicacy. However, the reason they’ve managed to ravage so much of California’s kelp forests is due to their population booming by 10,000% (100x) since 2014. There has been a call to encourage more people to eat sea urchins, with efforts to capture sea urchins, fatten them up, then sell them. Some people are just catching their own.

A sea otter, Pacific purple sea urchin, and a bunch of dead starfish.

Anatomically speaking, a sea urchin is simple, lacking eyes and a brain; sensing the environment with its “spikes” and eating whatever it can. Why this sea urchin boom anyway? A massive die-off of starfish and a declining sea otter population, natural predators of sea urchins; all thanks to climate change… That is why it’s up to us humans to be eators of uni. Thankfully, uni, as far as I’ve read, can taste amazing. The edible parts are yellow, buttery, savory, slightly sweet and salty with hints of the ocean. They’re often used in sushi, but also go great with pasta (risotto, languine, etc). Next time I’m near the coast (San Francisco or LA), I will have to taste for myself.

Uni in pasta. Credit: Thomas J. Story via myrecipes