Will one of Japan’s most famous delicacies survive a changing climate?

— Written by Will Dejesus


Purple urchin feeding on giant kelp

Sea urchin is a famous Japanese delicacy used in sushi, called uni. The gonads, or sex organs, is the part of the urchin that is actually eaten. It is high in protein and contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower blood pressure. Sea Urchins can be found along the West coast from Baja to Seattle. Sea Urchin harvesting along the coast of California has become one of the highest valued fisheries in the area. Almost 75% of the urchins caught along the California coast are sent to Japan, where they import over 250 million dollars worth every year.

Not only are sea urchins a relevant part of the food and fishing industry, but they also play a critical role in the kelp forest communities, as their preferred food source is giant kelp. With few native predators, sea urchins have the power to decimate kelp forests, which are already struggling with changes in ocean chemistry. Areas where sea urchin population has sky rocketed, kelp density has been nearly wiped out in a short period of time. From ocean to table, sea urchins play an important role in coastal communities on land and below the surface.

I am interested in taking a closer look at the feeding habits of these invertebrates given future predicted changes in ocean temperature. Their reactions to temperature changes in general and especially in feeding behavior is all of interest in this study. This will begin to paint a clearer picture of what we can expect our marine ecosystems and seafood industry to look like in the future.

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