For over a decade, Beware Reef Marine Sanctuary has experienced overgrazing by the overabundant long-spined sea urchin. Warming waters and a strengthening East Australian Current have extended their historical range from New South Wales into eastern Victoria and Tasmania.

The urchins that are present across the region eat large numbers of canopy forming brown kelp on reefs. This creates extensive barrens with nothing but bare rock, supporting far less plant and animal life.

Since March 2019, over 100,000 long-spined urchins have been removed from the sanctuary to protect this unique reef and the species that call it home. Expert contractors cull the urchins using specially designed hand-tools. This ensures quick, humane and effective removal. Marine vegetation, like kelp forests, can then re-grow. This provides habitat for the more than 350 species of plants and animals that live on Beware Reef.

In April 2021, Parks Victoria dive crews returned to the sanctuary. They re-visited sites where long-spined sea urchins were removed over the past two years. Preliminary survey results indicate very few urchins present at treated sites with promising kelp forest regrowth in these areas.

“It was fantastic to see the return of these important kelp forests and the large number of “kelp babies” when we returned to the reef to check on areas where urchins have been removed”
Mike Irvine, Ranger Team Leader, Parks Victoria

This project has been funded by the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity Response Planning program within the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. It contributes to a statewide initiative in partnership with the University of Melbourne, Deakin University and volunteers to manage overabundant urchins in marine protected areas.

Like forests on land, kelp forests provide habitat for many marine species. These include fish and small sharks that shelter in the canopy and many invertebrates that live under the kelp. These are special places rich in biodiversity and an important marine ecosystem found across southern Australia. You can read more about the wonderful underwater worlds in Victoria in the State of the Marine and Coastal Environment 2021 Report