The Urchin Merchant

by Lauren YS

Santa Cruz, USA – September 2021


Finding This Mural

2391 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Google Map

Story Behind This Mural

Artist Statement

"This mural addresses the declining health of the kelp forests off the coast of Northern California through anthropomorphization of the invasive purple sea urchin, the leopard shark, and the sunflower starfish, ecological signposts of the imbalanced ecosystem threatened by CO2 pollution and rising ocean temperatures. Drawing inspiration from the 80’s rich punk, skater, and surfer subcultures of Santa Cruz, this super-saturated trio of characters suggest the underlying struggle to counteract the adverse effects of global warming on the local kelp forests and welcomes the viewer to take part by consuming more invasive sea urchins, recycling, reducing their CO2 footprints and becoming further educated on the health of the local seascape. Recent years have seen a gut-wrenching loss of a key urchin predator, the sunflower sea star, due to sea star wasting disease, specific to rising sea temperatures - leaving the kelp forests of Northern California without any predators of the urchins, which are voracious grazers of kelp. The area covered by kelp forests off the coast of Northern California has dropped by more than 95 percent, with just a few small, isolated patches of bull kelp remaining. Species-rich kelp forests have been replaced by “urchin barrens,” where purple sea urchins cover a seafloor devoid of kelp and other algae. Deterioration of the kelp forest threatens a host of local species, including the tiger shark. “It’s a naturally dynamic system that has been really resilient to extreme events in the past, but the die-off of sunflower stars caused the resilience of the ecosystem to plummet. As a result, the kelp forests were not able to withstand the effects of the marine heatwave and El Niño event combined with an insurgence of sea urchins,"" cites Meredith McPherson, a graduate student in ocean science at UC Santa Cruz. This mural positions the ""urchin merchant"" in the center as a beacon of the sea star, vying for Its rehabilitation and buffeted by an urchin character and a tiger shark character (tiger sharks being creatures that suffer from the deterioration of the kelp forest) challenging each other for balance. The Merchant holds an opened urchin, proposing one way in which humans can aid the battle to combat the voracious urchin population."

The Focus

Endangered kelp forests