Sea Urchins – The mysterious recovery of a species

  • Written by  Katie Garrett
  • Published in Oceans
Sea Urchins – The mysterious recovery of a species Operation Wallacea
03 Nov
2017
In this exclusive film for Geographical, see how an unusually thriving sea urchin population could hold the answer to a mystery that has puzzled scientists for decades

The coral reefs of the Caribbean are exceptionally vibrant ecosystems, but the mysterious loss of one of its key species has recently had devastating consequences. A mass die-off of long-spined sea urchins has left many reefs smothered with algae, choking the life from corals and damaging the reef’s architecture: a critical habitat for many species of marine fishes and invertebrates. Fortunately, one reef off the coast of Honduras represents an exception to this decline and may provide the key to bringing these reefs back to life.

During the 1980s, a mysterious disease almost wiped out these urchins from their entire range. In the decades since this decline, they failed to significantly recover in any reef until a breakthrough discovery in 2010, when one thriving population was recorded on the Banco Capiro reef system in Honduras. Urchin numbers at this location are three orders of magnitude greater than any other part of the Caribbean, and healthy coral cover at this site is likewise significantly higher. It may well be the healthiest reef in the Caribbean.

diadema(Image: Operation Wallacea)

In this exclusive film for Geographical, video journalist Katie Garrett documents the researchers from Operation Wallacea, a British conservation group, that quickly dove in to investigate. By comparing the conditions found on Banco Capiro with the ‘typical’ degraded reef systems nearby, the scientists hope to uncover the unique kaleidoscope of conditions that have allowed urchins, and the rest of the ecosystem, to thrive at this site.

Cutting edge 3D-imaging technology is being pioneered by this project to map the reef structure in immaculate detail. After the field recording is completed, this form of underwater videography will allow a marine biologist to literally dive into this Caribbean reef, take accurate measurements, and conduct analyses at any time, and without getting their feet wet. This technological advancement will be a game changer for habitat analysis and can enable researchers to descend deeper to untangle the mechanisms suppressing recovery of this species. The team are hopeful their discoveries will allow them to recreate optimal conditions in other damaged reef systems, restoring not only urchin populations, but also the myriad of other species that rely on healthy coral for their survival.

Underwater surveyUnderwater survey (Image: Operation Wallacea)

While scientists from Operation Wallacea race to uncover the secrets at Banco Capiro, their partners at the Tela Marine Research Centre are working in the local community to promote protection of this precious reef. The centre was founded by Antal Borcsok, a charismatic Honduran businessman who developed a passion for marine conservation. He has created the sole marine research laboratory in Honduras, with state of the art equipment and a conservation ethic firmly rooted in the community.

This site represents a ray of hope for the health of reef ecosystems throughout the Caribbean. Join us as we follow this team of dedicated scientists applying exciting new technologies as they work alongside a passionate local investor to develop conservation efforts that will repair threatened coral reefs throughout the wider Caribbean.

Katie Garrett is a video journalist specialising in creating films about travel, wildlife, science and conservation. See more of her work at www.katiegarrett.co.uk or on Instagram and Twitter.

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

Overfishing and climate change are edging seabirds such as the…

Oceans

East African countries are sharing shipping data in order to…

Wildlife

How many elephants can you see? How many orang-utans are…

Climate

The ocean floor is being deformed under the weight of…

Climate

Progress on halting warming has not been great throughout 2017.…

Oceans

Coral bleaching is widespread around the globe and as it…

Climate

Wales is the second best recycler in the world

Climate

A series of worrying reports by the Global Carbon Project…

Wildlife

While it was the impact on civilian populations that generated…

Oceans

For Sylvia Earle there is one over-riding threat to humanity…

Geophoto

Iceland is a sparsely populated country with one of the…

Wildlife

Baltic seals and fish-eating bird populations are increasing and could…

Oceans

The UN has committed to completely stopping plastic waste from…

Wildlife

The world’s most endangered marine mammal has just been thrown…

Climate

Sixty-two of the natural World Heritage Sites are now at…

Oceans

In February 2015, maritime lawyer and cold water swimmer Lewis…

Climate

Water, water may be everywhere, but as Marco Magrini discovers,…

Energy

A deeper look at Scotland’s recent decision to ban the…

Climate

The discovery of increasing levels of ozone-depleting compounds being emitted…

Geophoto

November is a dark, quiet month, but it also marks…