When humans mess things up, God has the solution for problems humans cause. Since 2014, kelp forests and starfish have virtually disappeared from Alaska to Mexico. Sunflower sea stars were the main predators for sea urchins. The sea stars were severely affected by pollution, exploitation of marine resources, agricultural runoff, and climate change. Now scientists say they are functionally extinct. Since the sunflower sea stars are gone, the sea urchins have multiplied out of control.
Northern California has lost 95% of its kelp forests. The problem is that sea urchins are herbivores, and they eat the lower stems of kelp, causing the plants to die. Because of that, Fish, abalone, and various other marine animals that depend on the kelp forests have died. In many places, spiky sea urchins now carpet the seafloor, and locals have called those areas “urchin barrens.”
A partial solution to this problem is the sea otter, a keystone species and a major natural predator of sea urchins. Sea otters have a very high metabolism to keep them warm in the cold water, and it makes them ravenous consumers of sea urchins. In a single day, a sea otter can eat 25% of its body weight in food.
Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have found that sea otters are eating three times as many urchins as in 2014. In areas where sea otters are active, the kelp beds are starting to return. Once again, God has the solution for problems humans cause.
— John N. Clayton © 2021
Reference: Discover magazine December 2021, page 18, and DiscoverMagazine.com.