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Global Warming Brings Venomous Sea Urchin to the Aegean

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The Diadema setosum has been spotted in off at least 12 of Greece’s Cycladic islands. Public Domain

Global warming has brought a venomous sea urchin into the Aegean with scientists saying that it has been spotted in the waters off at least 12 Greek islands.

The particular sea urchin, whose scientific name is Diadema setosum, has extremely long, hollow spines that are mildly venomous. Scientists say it has arrived in the last few years from the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean through the Suez Canal, as the Mediterranean becomes warmer.

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Dimitris Kampanos, head of the ecological non-profit organization Dive in Action, said that the sea urchin has been spotted for several years in the Greek seas. “It has shown that, like all alien species, it can very easily flood the areas that it covers.”

Speaking to grtimes, Kampanos adds that the “remarkable thing in the case of Diadema setosumis is its large increase in the seabed of the Cyclades, proving that it is very durable both in time and space. Communities of these type of sea urchin are growing dramatically.”

The scientist said that the largest number of Diadema setosumis have been observed in the islands of Kalymnos, Folegandros, Kimolos, Serifos, Sikinos, Santorini, Iraklia, Schinoussa, Donoussa, Koufonisi, Naxos and Amorgos.

The species can be found throughout the Indo-Pacific region, from Australia and Africa to Japan and the Red Sea. Despite being capable of causing painful stings when stepped upon, the urchin is only slightly venomous and does not pose a serious threat to humans.

Alien species in the Aegean

Greek scientists have recently launched an attempt to record the actual number of alien fish species from the Red Sea which have “invaded” the Aegean and the Ionian Seas over the last several years.

They also hope to assess the impact these unwelcome species have already had on the environment — as well as on humans, given that some are toxic and dangerous to consume.

Among the most common are the the lionfish and puffer fish, both poisonous, which are causing trouble in the marine habitat around Greece and Cyprus.

The lionfish (Pterois miles) was first spotted in the Mediterranean in April of 2015. Originally found in the Red Sea, it had made its way into the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. This was only part of what is called the larger “Lessepsian Migration” of marine life through the canal.

Most dangerous of all the invasive fish species to come from this migration through the Suez Canal is the Silver-cheeked Toadfish, or Puffer Fish (Lagocephalus sceleratus). This species is so extremely poisonous that it cannot be eaten without serious risk of being effected by its natural toxins — even when cooked.

Climate change turns the Mediterranean ‘into a tropical sea’

In a recent report the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) warned that the Mediterranean is turning into a tropical sea due to rising global temperatures.

The Italian branch of the WWF says that due to the climate crisis nearly 1,000 exotic species have adapted to live in its waters — replacing endemic species.

The study found that with temperatures rising 20 percent faster than the global average and sea levels also rising — they are projected to have risen one meter by 2100 — the Mediterranean is becoming the saltiest and fastest-warming sea on the planet.

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