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Can aquaculture drive kelp forest reef restoration?

About the pitch 

An environmental disaster is occurring in southern Australia that few people know about due to it happening beneath the surface waters of Port Phillip Bay, where it is out of sight and out of mind. This disaster is the transformation of pristine kelp forest reef into degraded urchin barrens. Kelp forests are highly productive ecosystems and in Victoria, home to some idyllic marine life, for example native weedy sea dragons and green lip abalone.


Barrens, however, are degraded environments, devoid of kelp and dominated by malnourished purple sea urchins. The shift from kelp forest to barren remains, due to the persistent overabundance of these urchins.


Urchins in barrens have no value, due to their poor condition, hence are not fished or predated on, meaning there is no mechanism controlling their numbers. To restore the barrens back to kelp forest requires the urchins to be removed, through divers culling them, but this is costly and unsustainable long-term.


My research demonstrates that instead of culling, using aquaculture, urchins from barrens can be turned into a valuable delicacy. Hopefully this will encourage industry it is worthwhile to harvest these urchins for aquaculture, which would ultimately create a sustainable self-funded reef restoration mechanism.


Meet the Speaker

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Fletcher Warren-Myers

I spent 12 years working as a livestock farmer in a coastal farming region of New Zealand before realising my passion to become an aquaculture research scientist. After finishing my BSc in Wellington, New Zealand, I crossed the Tasman in 2009 to do my MSc and a PhD at the University of Melbourne.  


Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing primary food production areas globally and my research interests centre around ensuring aquaculture is developed and grown in a sustainable manner for future generations. I am currently a member of the Sustainable Aquaculture Lab, Temperate and Tropical (SALTT) at the University of Melbourne, researching new and innovative production techniques that may help improve the health and welfare of cultured species produced in commercial production facilities.  


My present research areas focus on: Test trialling submerged sea cage farming for Norwegian Atlantic salmon; using sentential fish as bio-indicators of population health in salmon aquaculture; and developing sea urchin roe enhancement aquaculture to incentivise commercial removal and use, of overabundant urchins from barrens in Port Phillip Bay.