Sea urchins have a pivotal role in maintaining a balance and improving the overall health of our marine ecosystems by keeping algae in check. They are also a crucial food source for 18 different fish species while their absence heightens the risk of invasive alien species from infiltrating and disrupting these already fragile ecosystems.

Awareness of the fact that our sea urchins are facing extinction and that they are among the pillars of a healthy marine environment, is pivotal to help people understand why we ned to take actions to stengthen these important populations.

A two-year moratorium has come into effect on July 7, through legal notice 149 of 2023, meaning that now, any use of the local sea urchins is now strictly prohibited by law with the intention of helping to protect the sea urchin populations in Maltese waters. This need for action has stemmed from a recent study commissioned by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), which has highlighted the diminishing numbers of our local sea urchin populations or rizzi in Maltese.

During these two years, actions such as disturbing, harming, possessing, transporting, selling, exchanging or exporting of any of these specimens are prohibited by law and those who disregard this regulation, will face penalties which include substantial fines, underlining the severity of the matter.

This moratorium is the first step towards the regeneration of the sea urchin population numbers, however, this would only be effective if everyone is on board. This is necessary as the restoration of population numbers is a process which requires adequate time. Local sea urchins have dwindled so much that we risk losing them from our seas leading to various repercussions that stretch far beyond our culinary variety.

A recent ERA study has highlighted the diminishing numbers of local sea urchin populations.A recent ERA study has highlighted the diminishing numbers of local sea urchin populations.

While the harvesting of sea urchins from local waters now stands as a banned act, their importation remains a sanctioned avenue to satiate consumer demand. This measured approach seeks to strike a balance between fulfilling culinary practices and safeguarding our local treasures. Restaurant proprietors and fish importers are entrustred with maintaining relevant documentation to substantiate the source of their sea urchin stock in the case of inspections by relevant authorities.

This moratorium is not just a matter of legality but a testament to our dedication to nurturing and preserving the intricate web of life beneath the surface. Be part of this initiative to save our rizzi for generations to come. In this aspect, joining in is very easy – just don’t do anything when you encounter one!

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