Kelp! They Need Somebody … To Eat Sea Urchins

hand holding an urchin
Denise MacDonald holds a purple sea urchin at the Bodega Bay Marine Laboratory. (Ryan Tamborski for KQED. Use with permission)

By Danielle Venton for KQED (NPR) on December 26, 2019

"Denise MacDonald held out a tray of spiny purple sea urchins. The roe, served in the shell and the color of egg yolk, contrasted nicely with the urchin's dark, purple spines. MacDonald, director of global brand marketing at a company called Urchinomics, invited me to have a taste. I scooped up a blueberry-sized amount with a spoon.

It's good: salty, fresh, creamy.

'Tastes like the sea,' I said.

'But with a buttery aftertaste,' said MacDonald.

Urchinomics and its partner, the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, are running a trial designed to develop methods for ranching purple sea urchins for profit, while at the same time addressing the consequences of a nasty ecological chain reaction.

In 2014-15, sea stars began dying en masse from a mysterious wasting disease, which scientists believe was exacerbated by a massive blob of warm water that spread throughout the Pacific Ocean.

Because starfish prey on sea urchins, the latter population's exploded when the former's dwindled. The urchin boom had a profound effect on another ocean-living organism: kelp, a type of seaweed."

Hear the full story at KQED

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