A flood of urchins

The Southern Cape has been having above average rainfall this year. The Langeberg mountains close to Witsand received three times as much rain as is usual for October. Heavy rains in mid-October caused the Breede River to flood, and the large amount of fresh water entering the sea at Witsand caused havoc in the Witsand rock pools. The change in the salinity of the water drove away fish and other sea creatures like octopi, and killed a lot of the sea urchins. The shells all washed up on the beach in numbers which are rarely seen.

Sea urchins, for those that don’t know,are small, spiny, globular animals related to sea stars, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, and crinoids.  Willie was down in Witsand this past weekend and took some great photos of the sea urchin shells and other marine life which washed up on the beach.













Other post about Witsand include:

Thank you to Willie for allowing me to use his beautiful photographs and for providing the information for this post.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Lifestyle/Travel, Nature/Environment


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)


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40 Comments on “A flood of urchins”

  1. November 1, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    These are stunning!

    • November 2, 2012 at 6:54 am #

      Thanks! Willie was testing a new camera and these were perfect macro subjects.

  2. November 1, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    some incredible photos here 🙂 i like the way the tide line is so clear as you can see where the anemones have ended up. also they are amazing creatures which you dont notice when they are swimming or in rock pools. their decoration and external features are truly beautiful 🙂 thankyou for sharing this

    • November 2, 2012 at 6:57 am #

      Yes, one doesn’t really notice them much when they’re in the water. They must have all washed up with the same tide, to create such a distinct line.

      Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment! 🙂

  3. GeoRoMancer
    November 1, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    Hi Lisa!
    Like the colourful red and purple (mauve? violet?) ones … a walk on the beach would be great just now!

    • November 2, 2012 at 6:58 am #

      Hi there! Nice to “see” you again. The colours are amazing. I was telling Willie yesterday that you sometimes see people pairing up mauve with light green – and here nature has done it before us.

  4. November 1, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Gorgeous, I love scouring the beach after heavy seas.

    • November 2, 2012 at 7:00 am #

      Thanks Debra! 🙂 You’ve given me a good idea – to go to the beach after a major storm with a camera.

  5. November 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Wow – I don’t think I’ve ever seen these up close before, and certainly not in these numbers.

    • November 2, 2012 at 7:01 am #

      I was also amazed when I first saw the photos. I’ve never seen anything like this either.

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  6. November 1, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Oh, what I wouldn’t do for those shells! Simply gorgeous, Lisa. We call those sea urchins here. I have never seen so many in my life. WOW!

    • November 2, 2012 at 7:04 am #

      Oh Kathy you’re right – these are sea urchins! I don’t know what I was thinking when I posted this!!! Have corrected the title and text.

      Willie didn’t think to bring any home with him . . . 😦

  7. November 1, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    AMAZING! I`m just speechless.

  8. November 1, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

    Is it okay to remove them from the beach? I think I would have been tempted to take a few home with me. Willie took some great photos!

    • November 2, 2012 at 7:07 am #

      I don’t think it would have been a problem to take a few, although Willie didn’t bring home any . . .

      Willie was testing a new compact camera and these shells were just perfect for macro shots. The shell groupings also made for some interesting shots.

  9. Eha
    November 2, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    What a fantastic lesson for a gal living in the southern half of Australia! Either I have not been on the beaches for too long or we do not abound in such wealth? Fabulous photos: hope you do not mind but one has just ended up as my new computer background 🙂 !

    • November 2, 2012 at 7:10 am #

      Hi Eha! This is a very unusual sight – I’ve also never seen so many washed up at one time.

      It’s fine for you to use a photo for your personal use. Which photo was your favourite?

      Thanks for visiting my blog and for your kind comments! 🙂

      • Eha
        November 3, 2012 at 1:22 am #

        [big smile] : the fifth from the top seemed to have the most ‘bounty’ and I loved the many quiet shades of colour: natural elegance 😀 !

  10. November 2, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    The photography is brilliant. I’ve collected a few sea urchin shells over the years but I have never ever seen so many on the beach at the same time, or such spectacular colours 🙂

    • November 2, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

      Thanks Rosie! Willie has been reading all the comments and is pleased everybody likes his photos. 🙂 I love the colours too.

  11. Madoqua
    November 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    Sea urchin shells are one of my most favourite shells. I think they are exquisite and so fragile. I hope you don’t mind, but I would like to reblog this post, with its incredible photos. I would so have loved to see this!

  12. Madoqua
    November 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    Reblogged this on Have you ever… and commented:
    This is an amazing post which has photos of hundreds of sea urchins on a beach in Southern Africa. I have never seen anything like it. I hope you enjoy Lisa’s post.

  13. November 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    Fascinating. The array of colours is beautiful.

    • November 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

      Yes, the colours are beautiful aren’t they? Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment! 🙂

  14. November 3, 2012 at 4:16 am #

    My goodness, that’s a lot of urchins! You really have to be careful not to step on one of them, there are so many.

    I recently watched a TED video and thought of you because it has to do with sea life off the coast of Cape Town. It was about the great penguin rescue in June 2000 which saved 40,000 penguins from a terrible oil spill. I love penguins. Have you heard about this amazing rescue?

    • November 4, 2012 at 10:12 am #

      The urchins were all lying along the high tide line, which is why Willie could get in so close to take the macro shots.

      Yes, I do remember that big oil spill. A lot of people in the Cape Town area volunteered to go and wash penguins. It was quite an operation!

  15. November 3, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    What a lot of beautiful sea urchins, Madoqua. I’ve only ever seen them in shops.:)

    • November 4, 2012 at 10:13 am #

      We see them on our beaches here, but rarely in those quantities. Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment! 🙂

  16. Lu
    November 4, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    Beautiful photos – and I’ve never seen so many washed up like this before! The only other time I’ve seen these little pampoene was at Shelly Beach. They had long been dead and were “clean” of all their spines and fleshy (smelly) innards.

    • November 5, 2012 at 7:36 am #

      Thanks Lu! I didn’t think to ask Willie whether or not they were still smelly. 🙂

  17. November 19, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    they are so beautiful! sorry i’ve been absent lately.. am catching up now! z

    • November 20, 2012 at 6:44 am #

      Yes, aren’t they? – Nature’s art. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment! 🙂

  18. December 2, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    Wow! The numbers speak, infestation! Wonder if this is nature’s way of culling?

    • December 2, 2012 at 10:10 am #

      Quite spectacular isn’t it?! Maybe it’s the other way around – that urchins breed quite rapidly to make up for the numbers wiped out in events like this? This beach is at Witsand i.e. very close to the marine reserve which is part of De Hoop.

      • December 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

        Spectacular -yes! It’s rather intriguing how nature always comes up with a plan of counteraction. We were really worried here when sea fisheries did a ‘trial’ on trapping octopus for commercial purposes… as already the balance is tipped with the scarcity of crayfish, and the numbers of sea urchins (although these are the spiny ones) had escalated. Kelp too is getting out of hand. Fortunately it was found that the sea of False Bay wasn’t co-operative enough to allow routine harvesting.. thank goodness for galeforce winds. Sounds like nature rules at Witsand, far enough away from harmful human impact 🙂

      • December 3, 2012 at 6:40 am #

        It’s really sad to see the impact that humans have on natural systems. Which is why marine reserves like the one at De Hoop are so important.

  19. December 26, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    That’s a great sight—and of course an opportunity for pictures. As a photographer, I always appreciate it when a subject comes to me.

    • December 26, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

      Yes, it’s quite amazing, isn’t it? I usually regret it when I go walking without my camera – you just never know when there are going to be surprises like this one waiting.

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