I love picking up shells.  Of all the hundreds of different shells on our shoreline, the sea urchin (Pampoenjie in Afrikaans) is the one that fascinates me the most.

It’s probably not one of the most beautiful creatures in the ocean, but one of the most memorable ones.  Especially if you had the privilege to encounter one while exploring the rock pools!

red and purple urchins

Stepping on a sea urchin will cause a great deal of discomfort, as it’s fragile, venomous spikes will break off in whatever touches them and, thanks to the venom, feel a lot more painful that just getting poked by the spine would have been.  The spines are so fragile, they often shatter when one tries to pull them out and if not properly treated, may get secondarily infected.

Although their colourful exterior is beautiful to look at, this is not what fascinates me.  It’s the inside that is the real deal to me.

A little bit of Biology…

A sea urchin‘s body is completely covered by sharp spines that can grow up to 8 cm. These spines grow on a hard shell called the “test” (shell), which encloses the animal.  They have the ability to regenerate lost spines. Lifespan often exceeds 30 years, and scientists have found some specimens to be over 200 years old.  They feed primarily on algae but also eat slow-moving animals.  They have often been called sea hedgehogs.

When a sea urchin dies, all its spines fall off, leaving only the test (the shell).  These are then the shells we pick up on the beach.

Back to the reason for writing about them….

What astounds me, is the size of the tests (shells) I have found washed up on the beach!

Can you see the baby sea urchin?  When you walk along our shorelines, you come across many sizes and different colors and patterns.

If you look carefully at the shell, you can see tiny bumps covering it where the spines were once connected.


Besides it’s beauty, here are a couple of characteristics of a sea urchin that stands out for me:

  • Sea urchins can be found all over the world in all oceans, warm or cold water.  Some common places they live are in rock pools and mud, on wave-exposed rocks, on coral reefs in kelp forests and in sea grass beds.  Just like sea urchins, we should learn to adapt to our circumstances.  I’m not saying change who you are, but accept the situation you are in for what it’s worth and learn from it.  If you are placed in rough seas (situations)  KNOW that you are strong enough to get through it, and be the best you can be in your situation.


  •  Sea Urchins have hundreds of feelers in between their spines with which they latch onto rocks so that they don’t get pushed back and forth when waves washes over them.  Sea Urchins sticks to what they know.   So should we.  You KNOW who you are.  So why move away from that and expose yourself to hurt and disappointment?  Latch on to your rock, stick to it, and when the waves come, you will not move from it.  Sea urchins instinctively knows that rocks are their safe haven.  We sometimes need more encouragement to know whom our rock is.


  • What you see, is what you get.  Once a sea urchin dies, the shell remains the same colour.  It doesn’t fade with time being out of water.  When you leave your comfort zone, do you change your “colour”?  Or do you stay who you are?  Does your love, personality, demeanor change over time or are you steadfast in who you are?


  • A sea urchin‘s spines might be fragile, but it will do anything to protect it’s core.  How strong are you?  And I’m not talking physically.  When talking about protecting yourself at all cost, I’m referring to what do you feed yourself emotionally.  Do you allow yourself to feed on uplifting and positive information, do you surround yourself with positive, inspiring people and do you build yourself up with positive, encouraging words everyday.


  • When a sea urchin dies, the true beauty is revealed: a beautiful shell to admire.  A sea urchin shell has no other purpose than being beautiful after it died,  but it’s in its death, that we can admire it.  It’s when we die to self, the true beauty in us comes alive.  When we die to self, that what’s inside is able to shine through and the beauty within us can live. 


  • A life sea urchin has an important purpose:  to keep algae at bay and to prevent algae from smothering healthy reefs till the point of death.  Everyone has a purpose, no matter how small you are or how much inadequate you feel.    It’s the smallest gestures who brings the biggest rewards.


  • To reach the shoreline, a dead sea urchin has to be carried by waves over many sharp edged rocks.  It is astounding how many reaches the shoreline without breaking!  You are stronger than you think!  Though the waves of life’s circumstances washes over you, you will make it out the other side, maybe bruised, but not broken.  We are not born weak.  We have a higher power inside us, carrying us through what we are facing.  That which is within you is strong and able.  You just need to let Him take the reigns and steer you on the right path.

The next time you notice a sea urchin on the beach or in a rock pool, stop to admire it.  Find yourself in it.  Look for your purpose.  Place that shell on your desk where you can see it every day as a reminder that you are strong, you have a purpose, you will get through life’s challenges, you will not break.