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Can Urchinomics save our seabed?

Edition 183 Dr John Keane from IMAS measures long-spined urchins

Technology developed in Norway and Japan could help Tasmanians cope with – and profit from – the destructive invasion of long spined sea urchins (Centrostephanus).

The invasive urchins are devastating east coast waters, creating seabed "barrens" that impact on such commercially important species as abalone and rock lobster.

UTAS's Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) has investigated ways to counter the urchin invasion and resultant kelp loss and has teamed up with a global business, Urchinomics, to trial a new approach to the problem.

Norway-based Brian Tsuyoshi Takeda, the founder of Urchinomics, said: "The urchins need to be removed in order to enable the kelp beds to regenerate."

UTAS research has shown that regrowth follows quickly after the removal of urchins.

Mr Takeda said the fact that healthy urchins are a prized delicacy – especially in Japan where they are a popular sushi ingredient – creates a business opportunity.

"On barrens like those in Tasmania, the urchins run out of food and don't produce the edible roe that is prized by seafood lovers," Mr Takeda said.

"They become nearly empty shells and a waste of time and energy for divers.

"The business opportunity is to turn these low-quality urchins into high-value food and, in the process, take them off the seabed so that kelp can recover."

Mr Takeda is confident Urchinomics has found a system to achieve this and he has the support of IMAS Research Fellow John Keane.

Dr Keane said: "I saw first-hand how Urchinomics´ technology functions in Japan.

"I’m excited by the opportunity to test this approach under Tasmanian conditions with the species present in our water.

"This initiative has huge potential for our State, both economically and ecologically."

Dr Keane said Tasmania was particularly suited to urchin harvesting because the two established species – long spined invaders and endemic short spined urchins (Heliocidaris) – breed in opposite seasons and are ready for harvesting in different halves of the year.

"The opportunity is to harvest and process year-round, which is much better for a business than to have a stop-start operation," he said.

"The short spined urchins can also create barrens, so the idea is farm them sustainably, along with the long spined species."

Dr Keane said both species would be involved in the State's first Urchinomics trial in Great Oyster Bay.

The owners of a local oyster lease have partnered with Urchinomics in the trial.

Mr Takeda said: "After identifying barrens we gather the starving, unhealthy urchins and re-home them in holding systems that can be hung in deep water off existing oyster or mussel lines.

"We feed them a specially formulated, all-natural feed and after 12 weeks they are full of flavoursome roe and are ready to eat."

Urchinomics uses established supply chains to deliver the urchins to seafood lovers around the world.

The organisation's impressive less-is-more website www.urchinomics.com says: Urchinomics = Healthy seabed, healthy urchins, healthy profits."

The restored seabeds would enable southern rock lobster and abalone populations to regenerate.

Tasmanian divers have previously removed more than 400 tonnes of urchins from the east coast, but the operation that began in 2008 has struggled at times because of the poor condition of many collected urchins, especially those from barrens.

The Urchinomics strategy is designed to improve the economics of harvesting.

IMAS has conducted extensive research into urchin control involving the introduction of large lobsters that predate at urchins, commercial harvesting and direct culling.

Dr Keane is convinced that it will take a multi-faceted approach to restore balance to the east coast marine ecosystem.

Image courtesy of Dr John Keane

1 May 2017, Edition 183

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Facts about Tasmania

Tasmania

Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.

Tasmania

Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012-13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.

Geography

Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.

Geography

The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island's land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.

Geography

About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.

Climate

Twice named 'Best Temperate Island in the World' by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.

Climate

In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.

Population

The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of Mt Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania's highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.

Flora

Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.

Flora

Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King's holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.

Fauna

Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.

Fauna

The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.

Fauna

The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania's predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.

Economy

A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.

Economy

Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world's biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.

Economy

The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.

Economy

Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.

Economy

Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.

Economy

The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.

Economy

Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.

Economy

The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the state's gross product in 2010-11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

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