The Urchin Slayers are trying to save the underwater rainforest

This story is basically Appeared Nose And part of it Climate desk Collaboration.

Grant Downey was out of the Pacific Ocean for about 10 minutes when he realized he could no longer see outside his right eye.

The second-generation commercial diver was deeper than usual to catch her – the Red Sea urchins are valued by restaurants for them. Uni, Or sushi-grade gonads. But the red arcins, which live in the underwater kelp forest, have become harder to find in recent years. And each extra foot depth forces more nitrogen into her bloodstream, increasing her risk of having dangerous bubbles in her body or brain.

This time, a black wall with half his vision, he was afraid that he would eventually push his body too far. Although his right eye regained its effectiveness 20 minutes later, the 33-year-old decided he had been made with such risky dives, even if the decision ended up for his income.

“I knew it was for me,” Downey said last March, about seven months after the incident off the coast of Fort Bragg, Northern California. “I’ll probably go feet5 feet down, but I don’t know if I’ll do that deep, deep end. It’s getting harder and harder for the guys who are still trying to go. ”

Anyone relying on California’s Kelp Forest for their livelihood can tell you that something very wrong is going on below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. It is not just the red urchin population that is declining. Much of the seaweed kelp, the dense, autumn-toned canopy that once provided food, shelter and safe haven for marine species-from sea camels to abalone, from rockfish to fragile stars. Where once the giant kelp or the whip-like bull kelp floated, entire parts of the underwater forest were destroyed by a certain predator: the purple urchin.

People sometimes refer to purple urchins as “zombies” of the sea – the result of their great appetite and great survival skills. (They can survive in “starvation” mode for years.) Spikey, similar to baseball-sized pom-poms, purple urchins are omnivorous, eating everything from plankton to dead fish. But they are especially fond of kelp, and they can chew holdfasts that anchor every strand under the sea.

As a result of the “Urchin barren”, which divers call it, could extend hundreds of miles, scientists reported earlier this year that some Northern California kelp forests have been 95 percent damaged since 2012.

Kelp is the key to marine biodiversity on the west coast. Like terrestrial forests, kelp (a form of technically brown algae) is an important carbon sink that converts sunlight and carbon dioxide into leaves and canopy. But unlike trees, which return much of that carbon as it decomposes into the atmosphere, dead kelp is more likely to sink to the bottom of the ocean, which provides natural coercion. With the kelp forests submerged and hungry urchins waiting on the beach, that cycle has been severely disrupted.

“We’re missing out on critical critical measures, which means losing fish, losing recreational opportunities, losing carbon footprint, losing coastal protection,” said Fiorenza Micheli, a marine ecologist and co-director at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions. “It’s basically the equivalent of losing a rain forest – if we don’t see it.”

Parts of the west coast have seen a 10,000 percent increase in purple urchins over a five-year period. As commercial divers call a huge number of “parps,” they have rocked communities off the coasts of California and southern Oregon. As a result, many kelp lovers – commercial fishermen, recreational enthusiasts, scuba divers and scientists, to name a few – are often desperate to take the purple sea urchin into their own hands, often armed with hammers and dive knives.

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