Have you ever seen a creature as cute and wondrous as the sea otter? Well, maybe, but few species harness the ecological wonder and importance like these threatened creatures, and each year in the final week of September, we spotlight the vital role our furry aquatic friends play in our ecosystem and the resulting effects they have on the well being of our coastlines!
To fully understand the sea otter’s importance, one should think back to The Lion King *queue Circle of Life*. The interconnectedness of each species on this planet creates a chain of consequences that effect the way we and everything else lives. The presence of sea otters is made apparent by the visibility of sea kelp forests, which rely on low numbers of sea urchins and other invertebrates to flourish and provide for other creatures, protect our coastlines from storm surges, and absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide. Sea otters happen to eat urchins, so when more otters are present, these essential kelp forests are able to thrive and play their own critical role in the circle of life and carbon dioxide reduction. Without these otters, kelp forests would be greatly reduced in size and density by the smaller creatures that an otter’s diet is composed of.
While shellfisheries may not be too thrilled by the impact these creatures have on their business, the overall picture is much larger. The importance of the work of sea otters is now established and has become an unignorable asset in reducing carbon levels and slowing down global warming, while maintaining our coastal communities. Studies have shown that the presence of sea otters increased the carbon storage of kelp forests by up to 8.7 megatons, or the equivalent of a years worth of emissions from 3 to 6 million cars. Such a small creature, so often overlooked as just cute, has a massive role in environmental conservation, proving that the size (an appearance) of an animal is no measure for its impact or importance.