Tasmania’s environmental groups unite to call for action to stop destruction of east coast reefs by the long-spined sea urchin

Media Release

14 December 2018

Tasmanian’s environment groups are meeting on Friday 14 December 2018 at Parliament House in Hobart to discuss Tasmania’s environmental priorities. The groups have taken this opportunity to highlight the destruction of reef ecosystems on Tasmania’s east coast by the long spined sea urchin and call for urgent and decisive action to stop it.

The Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) released a report last week that shows that the long-spined sea urchin (Centrostephanus rodgersii) has exploded in numbers and had destroyed 15% of all east coast reefs. IMAS has produced modelling that predicts that 32% of east coast reefs will be destroyed by 2021. The sea urchins eat the critical kelp and sea weeds leaving ‘barrens’ which are largely devoid of other species. The creation of barrens causes a permanent loss to the marine biodiversity and eliminates recreational and commercial rock lobster and abalone fisheries. This problem has arisen as a result of there being insufficient rock lobster of sufficient size to predate on the sea urchin – lobsters must be significantly larger than the legal catch size to be able to break open the urchin’s shell.

Conservation Groups are meeting at Parliament House today to discuss Tasmania’s environmental priorities and brief the Tasmanian and Australian Greens. The groups attending the meeting have endorsed a statement (see attached) which calls for urgent and decisive action to stop the destruction of our east coast reefs.

The conservation groups meeting corresponds with the State Government’s ‘Centrostephanus Forum 2018’ also being held today at Blundstone Area in Bellerive near Hobart. Jon Bryan and Peter McGlone from the Tasmanian Conservation Trust are the only non-government conservationists attending.

The TCT Director Peter McGlone said today that “We are greatly heartened by the show of support from the conservation movement and hope that it strengthens the resolve of the state government and fishers to deliver effective solutions following today’s forum.

“It is disturbing that while over fishing of large rock lobsters is acknowledged in the IMAS report as contributing to the explosion of the sea urchins the government’s forum does not have a speaker talking about the importance of large lobsters as a natural control on the sea urchins.”

The TCT’s Marine Spokesperson Jon Bryan, who has been diving on the east coast for forty years and warning the Tasmanian government about the threat from expanding urchin barrens for more than 20 years, said that “Tough decisions need to be made to ensure that we have enough large rock lobsters in the east coast waters to stop or slow the spread of the long-spined sea urchin and stop the destruction of our reefs”.

“Lobsters must grow to be much larger than the legal fishing size before they can break open and eat the sea urchins, so it should be obvious that we must reduce fishing pressure to allow lobsters to grow bigger in numbers that will limit the spread of urchin barrens.”

“The forum is focusing on less effective and expensive measures such as harvesting and liming, which are limited to shallow water, or unproven robots to control urchins when it has been demonstrated that large rock lobster are effective and natural control agents.”

The Spokesperson for newly formed group Tasmanian Ocean Action Lucy Landon-Lane said that “I recently moved to Bicheno to live and it is devastating to realise that the rocky reefs that I have grown to love are disappearing so rapidly and that the destruction is the greatest in the north east”.

“I don’t understand the reluctance of the industry and scientists to see the obvious need to return the natural balance to our reefs so that the large lobsters control the sea urchins.”

“The Lobster fishers may not like the idea of restricting fishing but it will hurt them much more if existing fisheries management continues and destroys the habitat their industry depends on.”

Further comment:

Lucy Landon-Lane, Tasmanian Ocean Action – 0417 105 390

Jon Bryan, Marine Spokesperson, Tasmanian Conservation Trust – 0428 303 116

Peter McGlone, Director, Tasmanian Conservation Trust – 0406 380 545