Sea urchin mortality at the Johnson Atoll

C. Mark Eakin mark.eakin at
Mon Mar 18 13:41:16 EST 2002

I suggest that people also should collect as wide a variety of physical data
as possible.  At least temperature and any unusual salinity values.  here
has been some indication that such infestations could be more destructive at
higher temperatures.  Data are needed to test this and other hypotheses that
may link the diseases to physical factors.


Harilaos Lessios wrote:

> Lindsey Hays, the refuge manager at the Johnson Atoll, reports widespread
mortality of Echinothrix (and maybe Diadema as well) all around the Atoll.
It seems that most of the sea urchins got sick and died rapidly.   He is
making efforts to collect samples, so that  the pathogens and the hosts can
be identified.
> This may turn out to be a localized phenomenon, but this is what we
initially thought about the Diadema mortality in the Caribbean as well.
Just in case it spreads, it would be very useful for people in other areas
in the Pacific (particularly Hawaii and the Marshall Islands) to be ready
for it.  Surveys to determine population density of Echinothrix and Diadema
done now in unaffected areas can provide data that will become extremely
> It would also be a good idea to know ahead of time what to do if the
mortality should  appear elsewhere.  It is all common sense, but when things
are happening in a hurry, it is good to have a list.  If you notice sick or
dying sea urchins anywhere in the central Pacific:
> 1.Note  the date of the observation, and also note the date that
populations were last seen to be healthy.
> 2.  Collect specimens.  Some should be kept in 95% ethanol, some in 5%
formaldehyde, some frozen and (if possible) some should be cooled down on
ice for fast shipment to a microbiologist.
> 3.  If there are still healthy-looking animals around, collect some of
these too, so that their bacterial fauna can be compared with that of the
sick ones.
> 4.  If you have the time and the inclination, mark areas where the
mortality is occurring and areas where it does not seam to have reached yet.
Then monitor these areas by counting numbers of healthy, sick and dead
> 5.  Keep looking, even after the time that it seems that all the
Echinothrix is dead.  You may notice new ones emerging after a while (it
happened with Diadema antillarum).
> 6.  Don't expect the tests to stay around for very long.  They break down
to  unrecognizable ossicles in a matter of days (parrot fish may help).
> I hope that none of this will be necessary, because whatever is killing
the sea urchins at the Johnson Atoll will remain there.  Lindsay Hayes did a
great job of contacting people as soon as he realized that something was
amiss.  I wanted to spread the world around more widely in case things get
> Haris Lessios
> ****************************
> H.A. Lessios
> Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
> Balboa, Panama
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C. Mark Eakin, Ph.D.
Chief of NOAA Paleoclimatology Program and
Director of the World Data Center for Paleoclimatology

NOAA/National Geophysical Data Center
325 Broadway E/GC
Boulder, CO 80305-3328
Voice: 303-497-6172                  Fax: 303-497-6513
Internet: mark.eakin at


  C. Mark Eakin <mark.eakin at>
  Chief and Director of World Data Center for Paleoclimatology
  Paleoclimatology Program

  C. Mark Eakin
  Chief and Director of World Data Center for  <mark.eakin at>
  Paleoclimatology Program
  325 Broadway, E/GCx3                         Fax: 303-497-6513
  Boulder                                      Work: 303-497-6172
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  First Name    C. Mark
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