A sea urchin management system to protect marine forests and foster sustainable fisheries


Paracentrotus lividus (credits: Egidio Trainito)
Paracentrotus lividus (credits: Egidio Trainito)

During the opening meeting of the "MUrFOr" project (Managing sustainable sea URchin fishery and marine FORest conservation, Biodiversa +) ­­Italian, Spanish, German, Spanish and French researchers met to outline the steps of the conservation project which includes several study areas across the Mediterranean Sea.

The project meeting took place at the Center for Advanced Studies in Blanes in Spain. Biodiversa+ is the European partnership for the conservation of biodiversity, which supports research of excellence, determining positive impact on the management policies and society.

The project partners come from different countries, including Italy with the Anton Dohrn Zoological Station (SZN), the National Research Council of Italy (CNR) and the University of Sassari; Spain with the Centro de EstudiosAvanzados de Blanes (CEAB-CSIC) and Universitat de Barcelona (UB); Germany with Christian Albrechts-Universitaetzu Kiel (CAU), and France with the InstitutFrancais de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER).

In some areas of the Mediterranean Sea, intensive fishing can reduce the abundance of coastal fish which feed on sea urchins, allowing these to increase uncontrolled, and overgraze marine macrophyte forests. These habitats are biodiversity hotspots, supporting multiple species of organisms and the ecosystem services they provide. Additional to this ecological deterioration, fishing activities target other marine resources including invertebrates, among which sea urchins represent a relevant economic resource in some Mediterranean countries. In places where there is intensive sea urchin harvesting, the activity is becoming economically unsustainable, and the systematic removal of the main breeders (the largest sea urchins), together with stochastic eventssuch as extreme storms or diseases maylead populations to collapse.

In this context, guaranteeing food security from natural resources while maintaining healthy marine forest ecosystems and conserving biodiversity remains a complex challenge for managers. To accomplish this purpose, it is necessary to deeply understand the processes regulating the ecological and socio-economic systems including the sea urchin Paracentrotuslividus that plays a key role, both as one of the main Mediterranean herbivores controlled by fish (mainly the commercial species of Sparids), and for its value as a highly prized delicacy especially in some Mediterranean areas.

MUrFor is an interdisciplinary project that combines different expertise. It is based on the principles of participative management between researchers and stakeholders (e.g. regional fisheries and Marine Protected Areas managers). The project will be based on two main study areas: Sardinia, Italy, characterized by high sea urchin harvesting and Catalonia, Spain, where sea urchin overgrazing has been largely documented during the last decade. The results of the Project will be disseminated to citizens and schools through seminaries and dedicated events as well as in scientific journals. The technical applications of best management practices, as well as results of data collections, models and simulated scenarios, will be propagated for the

According to Principal Investigator of the project Simone Farina (Anton Dohrn Zoological Station): “The effective coupling and integration of the socio-ecological systems around marine forest habitats will permit the identification of optimal trade-off scenarios between long-term conservation of coastal benthic ecosystems and the viability of small-scale fisheries of both sea urchins and their predatory fish”.


Per informazioni:
Gemma Biondo
Cnr - Ias
Simone Farina, Anton Dohrn Zoological Station, email: