ST. THOMAS, Jamaica — Parts of the Caribbean are experiencing die-offs of sea urchins, researchers recently found.
The group Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment says the die-offs were first being reported in mid-February. According to AGRRA, which is compromised of international marine scientists, early reports showed the die-offs happening close to Charlotte Amalie Harbor in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. A month later, and the group says independent observations of die-offs were being reported in other locations.
The loss of sea urchins could spell problems for coral reefs. Sea urchins are one of the most important herbivores in the sea, removing algae from reefs. If die-offs continue, then many coral reefs in the Caribbean could become overgrown with algae.
"We worry that a real crisis is developing in the Caribbean, where stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) has already caused widespread coral losses affecting about 34 coral species in 20 countries/territories," AGRRA said in part in a recent news release.
The group says this isn't the first time sea urchin die-offs have been reported in the Caribbean. In the 1980s, researchers say sea urchins experienced a similar die-off. Populations of sea urchins have not fully recovered since that event, resulting in algae-dominated regions of reefs, AGRRA says.
While this recent die-off is similar to the one that happened four decades ago, researchers say they are not certain what the cause is.