SLUG REPORT > UCSC researchers analyze 40 years of data to go beyond cuteness
In tackling their primary prey, sea otters also tackle global warming. A new study, credited firstly to UC Santa Cruz professors and researchers Christopher Wilmers and James Estes, finds that sea otters have a significant impact on global carbon sequestration. Because the otter’s favored snack is the sea urchin—a scavenger known to devastate kelp forests when populations go unchecked—more sea otters translates to more kelp. And because the giant algae is a bit of a photosynthesis machine, that translates to a lot of sequestered carbon.
While their inherent cuteness has arguably spearheaded the otter’s recovery from near extinction to being an “endangered” population, man-made threats still remain in the form of oil spills, conflicts with fisheries, and climate change. Looking at the study, however, man may soon recognize the sea otter’s many assets.
According to the study, a healthy sea otter population in a kelp ecosystem of roughly 30 million square miles would sequester up to $408 million in carbon each year on the European Carbon Exchange. Yet another reason to love this seafaring critter.