In the century or so since skivers and thrusters were sent out from the Maryland and Delaware coasts to starboard and starboard the kelp forests and coral reefs of the Atlantic have grown and contracted in an imperceptible cycle. They become diseased, diseased again, and disappear. Certain species are dying out as of now, at a rate of around one percent a year. As a result, the only North American kelp forest is not located along the coasts but is what marine scientists describe as in an increasingly small pond in the Caribbean.
Such was the case with the spotted sea urchin, a small crustacean of long, pencil-thin legs with bizarre, translucent beaks, that was once abundant in these islands as well as off the coast of Maryland. But by far its most interesting trait was that in the 1960s, as kelp forests collapsed, the urchins began to lay fat lumps of sea grass and seaweed everywhere they could. Now about 90 percent of the coastline has these slimy lumps, and both the natural habitat of the urchins and the kelp forest have almost disappeared.
There is a group of scientists around the world, however, who believe there’s still a way to save this kelp forest without killing all these tiny creatures that live in the lumps and that many people might like to eat. But in order to do so, they’ve found they must first kill off the smallest urchins possible.