It’s 2030, imagine if…

The coastal reefs off south Eastern Australia were given new life through “Restoration through Harvest” (RTH), a ground-breaking regenerative fishing initiative. First Nations worked in collaboration with fishers, scientists and conservationists to improve the health of the marine estate, maintained by ongoing sustainable urchin harvesting. By 2035, there was a marked increase in local sea urchin consumption and a steady growth of exported urchin products, while urchin skeletons were used as organic fertiliser. Healthier kelp forests also led to increases in abalone and lobster populations. Australia’s kelp forests were finally in the public consciousness. RTH approach to kelp restoration became an accepted carbon sequestration method by the Clean Energy Regulator in 2025. This initiative underpinned the validity, and subsequent establishment of kelp restoration and biodiversity credits, resulting in greater marine protection and contributing to the global goal of restoring 1 million hectares of kelp forest by 2040.

Summary of solution

Kelp forests are among the most productive and biodiverse ecosystems on Earth, and are severely threatened by increases in sea urchin numbers which leads to overgrazing and barren reefs. In NSW, the ‘Centro’ urchin Centrostephanus rodgersii has created barrens along ~50% of shallow reefs. The intensive removal of Centro can lead to the re-establishment of kelp forests within months. The removed urchins are a valuable fisheries commodity that can finance kelp restoration. Roe is a delicacy across multiple cultures facing growing demand, and urchin waste can also be crushed and used as an organic soil ameliorant and agricultural fertiliser.

This project brings together scientists, fishers, government managers and indigenous groups to synergistically combine the restoration of kelp forests in NSW with enhancement of Sea Country and commercially and ecologically sustainable urchin harvesting. The return of kelp forests would restore Sea Country to historical states and return rich ecosystems of fish and invertebrates, as well as draw carbon from the atmosphere.

Why is this solution innovative

This solution proposes a new way of undertaking kelp restoration by combining ecological and market-based approaches to promote the economic viability of the urchin fishery in a way that also benefits coastal communities and the environment. It plans to undertake an integrated program for urchin removal in large, replicate, experimental areas of the NSW coast.The project is underpinned by a highly collaborative approach that brings together Indigenous Owners, fishers, conservationists and leading experts in coastal ecology and resource management from NSW.

This project has the potential to have a large an enduring impact on the costal marine ecosystem in Australia. Blue Carbon is very efficient in absorbing CO2 and also has a strong growth rate. This would play a great role in our country decarbonisation strategy while regenerating the marine ecosystem.