Kelp forests are critical ecosystems, they provide food, shelter, nursery areas for marine animals, and more to all the creatures who inhabit these underwater forests. But off the coast west of California, kelp forests are disappearing, more than 90 percent of the kelp has been decreasing since 2013. Urchins are a normal part of the ecosystems in kelp forests but due to the population increasing rapidly there causing significant issues. There are many reasons why the population of urchins are quickly rising, but two main factors have made a large impact. Rising ocean temperatures and the decreasing number of predators.


In late 2013 a massive patch of abnormally warm water known as “the Blob” started to cover a part of the Pacific ocean, a patch of “the Blob” is off the coast of California where our said kelp forests are. Kelp thrives in cold rich waters and so do most of the creatures who inhabit those ecosystems, so when the temperatures started rising and the waters warmed problems arose. 


Sunflower starfish are the largest and fastest known sea stars, they can also live anywhere from 20.5 – 65 years. The sunflower sea star is also a natural predator of sea urchins, it makes up a large part of their diet. Sadly also starting up in 2013 was the sea star wasting syndrome. This disease attacked many different kinds of sea stars, this includes the sunflower sea star. The sea star wasting syndrome has been estimated to have killed over 5.75 billion sunflower sea stars. These sea stars are now listed as critically endangered. 


A few ways we are helping restore the kelp are physically removing the urchins and bringing them to a urchin “ranch” to later be sold to restaurants. These “urchin ranches” feed the urchins food rich in nutrients to better prepare them to be sold off. This is a big help to the ecosystem! Other scientists are breeding sunflower sea stars to then later attempt to repopulate the waters. 








Source 1: In Hotter Climate, ‘Zombie’ Urchins Are Winning And Kelp Forests Are Losing By Lauren Sommer, March 31, 2022, n.p.r


Source 2: Sea Star Wasting Syndrome 

By U.S National Park Service, last updated on February 4, 2021,within%20only%20a%20few%20days.


Source 3: West Coast scientists call for action to help sunflower sea stars

By AP Staff, December 3, 2022, OPD


Source 4: As massive die off of sunflower sea stars devastates North Coast fisheries, international nonprofit lists species as critically endangered.

By Lana Cohen, staff reporter, February 25, 2021


Source 5: The Fight To save The California Kelp Forest

By Joe Purtell, June 7, 2022