Marine Aichmophobia: the sea urchin

If you suffer from aichmophobia (fear of needles/spines), this blog post is for you.

Sea urchins belong in the Kingdom Animalia and the Phylum Echinodermata along with seastars, sea cucumbers and sand dollars. All echinoderms share the common characteristic of spiny skin, tube feet, and pental radial symmetry.

For some the name “sea urchin” may inspire fears of an underwater monster capable of stabbing you at any moment. But in reality sea urchins are mostly sessile, meaning they live relatively stationary on the bottom of the ocean. If you watch where you step, sea urchins are easily avoidable.

Sea urchins play an important role in the ecosystem: they feed on seaweeds, allowing more space for corals to grow. When an outbreak of disease killed off the majority of Diadema sea urchins in Jamaica in the 1980s coral reefs became tangles of algae, until the sea urchin population recovered and restored balance to the ecosystem.

In California and here in the Philippines we have the opposite problem: an overabundance of sea urchins that consume entire habitats and leave behind rocky rubble sea barrens. In California groups of scuba divers remove excess sea urchins from the ocean to prevent consumption of their precious kelp forest habitat.

We have yet to take action to combat this sea urchin problem here in the Philippines. Scientists have suggested translocating excess sea urchins to locations with and overabundance of algae. Take a look at our sea urchin problem below. It is enough to inspire marine aichmophobia in any nearby swimmer.

Imagine stepping on one of these. Proper first aid involves removing the spines with tweezors as soon as possible. Then, soak the wound in hot water and rinse. Apply antibiotic ointment to any wounds to prevent infection.
Sea urchins have one eye on each tube foot amounting to hundreds total! However the sea urchin eye is merely a photosensor, sensing light and dark.

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