Robots are coming to save kelp forests from urchins

Kelp forests around the world have been in trouble. Some reports indicate that the global kelp biomass has been reduced by a 3rd in the last decade. Recently northern California, Australia, and Maine have been hit hard by a population explosion of purple urchins. These urchins graze on seaweeds and can clear entire kelp beds.

What’s causing these urchin booms is unclear, but most signs point to rising ocean temperature. With global temperatures set to rise, these urchin booms may become more frequent.

Some groups have taken it upon themselves to remove urchins from kelp beds, however this takes a lot of manpower and resources, such as, boats and SCUBA equipment. A new startup out of Stanford has designed robots that can go down to 120 feet underwater and collect urchins autonomously. This could be a vital resource in kelp forest defense.

Read more about their project here. (While this article is good at describing the project, we need to note the biological discrepancies. Kelp forests don’t provide 70% of the global oxygen. Kelp forests are important to fisheries, but there are a number of habitats that contribute to global fisheries and to say that kelp forests are the foundation of all fisheries is an overstatement)