Marine scientist John Keane is among a team of researchers testing fertilizer made from long-spined sea urchins on plants. "Hopefully soon you'll be able to buy sea urchin fertilizer for the home garden or a commercial industry to put on crops," Dr. Keane says. The long-spined sea urchin is a voracious ocean pest that is decimating reefs along Tasmania's east coast. It has become a huge threat to the state's multi-million-dollar abalone and rock lobster industries after munching its way through the habitat. To stem the tide, a state-government-subsidized fishery catches the urchins for their roe, but 95% of the urchin goes waste. Or it used to, until now.
Turning a feral pest into fertilizer
Tasmanian agricultural scientist Harriet Walker says the nutrient properties of the urchin waste are ideal for the home garden and broadscale agriculture. "It is rich in a lot of important plant micronutrients, such as boron and zinc, and is relatively high in nitrogen, which tends to be the most limiting nutrient when it comes to plant growth," Ms. Walker says.
"It's full of calcium, and for that reason, we see its potential as an agricultural liming product." Researchers from the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture are being funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation to test urchin fertilizer on plant growth. The scientists are testing it on sunflowers and hope to take the trials to broadscale agriculture later this year.
"As we're applying more fertilizer, we're seeing increased plant growth, and we're also seeing the sunflowers themselves are producing the flower heads faster than our control fertilizer," Ms. Walker says.
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