Over the last few years, the growth of the sea urchin stock has led to overpopulation along the Norwegian coast, and the urchins feed on the kelp forest and leave behind large underwater desert-like areas called barrens. Along the Norwegian coast alone, an estimated sea urchin population of 80 billion individuals is responsible for grazing down 3500 km2 of kelp, which equals 40% of the entire kelp forest in Norway. These kelp forests are important as breeding areas for fish, habitat for many smaller organisms, as well as for conversion of atmospheric CO2. If all grazed areas in Norway are restored, the restored kelp forest will bind 14 million tones of CO2, equivalent to the yearly emissions from 3 million cars.
Sea urchins are traditionally harvested for their gonads (roe), which is considered a delicacy in many cultures around the world. However, after depleting their own feed supply through consuming all kelp in a certain area, the urchins utilize the energy stored in their gonads to survive. Thus, urchins residing in these barren areas contain very small amounts of gonads and therefore have little or no commercial value. Fortunately, previous public research projects have resulted in technologies that enable so-called size enhancement of sea urchins, which is the process of feeding urchins in sea- or land based facilities with the purpose of enlarging their gonads. By commercializing this technology, one is able harvest a marine resource without commercial value, and turn it into a sought after and commercially viable product that can help feed future generations. Additionally, as the urchins are removed from the barren areas, the kelp forests get a chance to grow back, leading to restoration of the ecosystems and mitigation of issues related to climate change.