Sea urchins growing at a Sand Island hatchery soon to take on a tough job

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Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 1:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Sea urchins growing at a hatchery on Sand Island are thriving thanks to a native limu species.

The DLNR has been raising the urchins for more than a decade to serve a very special purpose. One day, they will be planted in Kaneohe Bay or off Waikiki to eat invasive seaweed that kill coral colonies.

When the urchins are around the size of a pencil eraser crews start feeding them the native limu.

“Well, there is there’s certainly an irony in the fact that we’re feeding the urchins with a native limu to get them large enough to go out into the field to eat an invasive seaweed. However, we don’t want to grow a non-native or an invasive seaweed to feed our urchins because we’re afraid that we might end up accidentally proliferating that invasive seaweed,” David Cohen of the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources said.

Once they’re the size of a dime, they’re ready to be released into the wild.

“Out in the wild they’ll eat anything, and work by a graduate student shows the collector urchins do prefer the invasive seaweeds. In our hatchery they grow-up as limu connoisseurs, feeding on the best native seaweed. Once they’re out in the ocean they become fast-food consumers,” Cohen joked.

The state says since its project collecting and growing urchins began, there have been major improvements to coral colonies in Kaneohe Bay.

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