Kelp forests recovering after urchin culls

Friday 21 May, 2021

The long-term program to improve the health of Beware Reef Marine Sanctuary is showing signs of success, with significant kelp growth observed on a recent survey.

Parks Victoria dive crews returned to the sanctuary in April 2021 to revisit sites where Black Sea Urchins have been culled over the past two years. Preliminary results are very promising, with kelp forest regrowth observed and few urchins present in treated areas.

Like forests on land, kelp forests are an important part of the marine ecosystem as they provide habitat for many species, from sharks to invertebrates. For more than decade, Beware Reef Marine Sanctuary in East Gippsland has experienced overgrazing by the overabundant Black Sea Urchins (Centrostephanus rodgersii), which has extended its historical range from New South Wales into eastern Victoria due to warming waters. By overgrazing the seaweed on a reef, the urchins create extensive barrens leaving nothing but bare rock, which supports far less marine life.

Since March 2019, more than 25,000 Black Sea Urchins in the marine sanctuary have been culled to protect this unique reef and the species that call it home. Parks Victoria engages expert contractors using specially designed hand-tools ensuring quick, humane culling. This allows marine vegetation, like kelp forests, to regrow and provide habitat for the more than 350 species of plants and animals that live in Beware Reef.

Underwater view of a group of sea urchins on rocks

Black Sea Urchins at Beware Reef Marine Sanctuary


This project has been funded by the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity Response Planning program and contributes to a statewide initiative in partnership with the University of Melbourne, Deakin University and volunteers to manage overabundant urchins in marine protected areas.
Beware Reef Marine Sanctuary is part of an underwater mountain range located three kilometres offshore from Cape Conran in East Gippsland. It protects rocky reef and kelp forest habitats that are home to a unique mix of marine species, due to its location between the warmer Eastern Australian current from the north and cooler current from Bass Strait.
For a summary on the last ten years of key urchin/kelp research in Port Phillip Bay, check out this YouTube webinar: 'Where Did All The Kelp Go?' from Dr Paul Carnell and Dr Prue Francis from Deakin University, from August 2023. This presentation is informing current management and restoration approaches.
There are 24 Marine Protected Areas in Victoria, created specifically to ensure that representative samples of Victoria’s diverse and amazing marine environment are conserved for future generations.
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