Scientists in Hawaii have begun breeding native sea urchins in an effort to curb the growing population of an invasive seaweed species.
Two types of invasive seaweed algae, Kappaphycus alvarezii and K. striatum, have been smothering Hawaii’s coral reef since they were first introduced in 1974. Now scientists from Anuenue Fisheries Research Center hope to save the fish that depend on the reef by releasing native collector urchins to eat the seaweed, Scientific American reported Friday.
The researchers say it won’t be hard to keep the urchins in check, as they are generally easy to herd and will have little impact on the local coral.
Yahoo! News reports that the project comes after years of research by the state Aquatic Resources division, the Nature Conservancy and the University of Hawaii.
After being raised in captivity, the first 1,000 juvenile urchins were released into Hawaii’s Kāne‘ohe Bay this weekend. Scientists plan to release an additional 25,000 each month to continually replace the urchins as they are eaten by fish and octopus.
David Cohen, Anuenue’s urchin hatchery manager, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the project marks one of the first times that urchins have been raised in captivity. He said it took a year to develop the techniques to hatch the animals.