Changing Planet

Desventuradas Expedition: The Sea Urchin and the Plastic Razor

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is setting off on his first big expedition of the year: to explore and record the underwater life around the remote Desventuradas Islands, hundreds of miles off the coast of Chile.

20 February 2013

Sea urchins are everywhere on the sheltered side of San Ambrosio Island. There are brown long-spine sea urchins, brown short-spine sea urchins, black long-spine sea urchins, white sea urchins, and flat sea urchins – also called sand dollars – which bury themselves on the sand.

Long-spine sea urchins protect themselves through their spine canopy. But sea urchins with shorter spines also try the old trick of camouflage. They typically put little rocks or pieces of algae on top of their bodies, to blend with the bottom.

Yesterday we went diving at a little cove near a fishing camp (fishermen from Juan Fernández come here seasonally to catch lobsters). Unfortunately, some fishermen are too happy throwing their trash in the sea. A sea urchin took advantage of a plastic disposable razor it found on the bottom, to try to blend among the human debris. Even in a remote island like San Ambrosio, we cannot escape from humans. The good news is that humans are here only seasonally, and this underwater world is still full of life.


This expedition is supported by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.

NEXT: The Cutest Predator


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Enric Sala’s Pristine Seas Expeditions

Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.
  • Tina Mozingo

    We are following your work. I want my student to know how books are written. I told them you explore and then come back and write about your journey. This was sparked by an conversation with one of my students who was arguing with me. My student did not know there were any areas left to explore. I am so glad to find your work. We will be checking in every day. I will be blogging about this at:

  • Chris M.

    here was something similar in sea urchin collecting behavior with some dentures from awhile ago:

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