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Monterey Bay Aquarium

Climate love

Hungry sea otters' remarkable impact on ecosystem restoration 🦦💚

The reintroduction of sea otters in the degraded Elkhorn Slough estuary in California has triggered a positive chain reaction, involving crabs, salicornes and marshes. 🦦 Contrary to expectations, the insatiable appetite of sea otters for crabs is now limiting estuary erosion. A team of American and Canadian scientists, led by Professor Brent Hughes from the University of Sonoma, discovered that sea otters can slow down erosion by up to 90% in certain parts of Elkhorn Slough.

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Sea otters had nearly disappeared from the area due to fur hunting in the 19th century but a few individuals returned in the 1980s, and active reintroduction and conservation efforts boosted the population in the 2010s.
Analysing decades of data, scientists estimated estuary erosion rates in the presence and absence of sea otters. The erosion reached its peak in the early 2000s when the otter population was at its lowest, with an average erosion of 0.35 meters per year from 2000 to 2007. This decreased to 0.1 meters per year from 2008 to 2018, coinciding with the otter population's increase from 11 to 119 individuals between 2005 and 2018.
“Salt marshes are one of those ecosystems that globally are in a state of decline. In California, we lost 90% of them,” said Hughes in a previous interview to The Guardian. "In areas recolonised by sea otters, marshes and salt flats stabilise again.". Despite rising sea levels, increased inland water flows, and worsening pollution, these areas show resilience.
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Sea otters are a "keystone species," maintaining ecosystems for free by curbing crab populations. Their large appetite plays a crucial role. They must eat continuously and among their preferred foods are crabs. If crab populations proliferate, they destabilise the estuary by digging numerous burrows and feeding on the roots of marine plants like salicornes. When these plants die, they lose their role as soil stabilisers. However, when sea otters are present, they consume enough crabs to keep their population low, maintaining stable marine vegetation.
One great example of the essential role of reintroduced predators in enhancing ecosystem function and resilience, send Climate Love 💚 on World Wetlands Day!
Have a look at how the Monterey Bay Aquarium works with otter reintroduction in the Elkhorn Slough Estuary:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvfFsC165CY






https://www.sciencesetavenir.fr/animaux/animaux-marins/quand-des-loutres-de-mer-affamees-freinent-l-erosion-d-un-estuaire-californien_176464



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  • Chris Ndungu

    9 w

    I am thrilled up as I see that even sea otters can conserve the environment. what a fantastic message!

    1
    • George Kariuki

      10 w

      This story offers a hopeful message about the potential of ecological restoration and the interconnectedness of nature.

      2
      • We Don't Have Time

        10 w

        Dear Sarah Chabane Your climate love has received over 50 agrees! We have reached out to Monterey Bay Aquarium by email and requested a response. I will keep you updated on any progress! To reach more people and increase the chance of a response, click the Share button above to share the review on your social accounts. For every new member that joins We Don't Have Time from your network, we will plant a tree and attribute it to you! /Adam, We Don't Have Time

        1
        • dickson mutai

          11 w

          Nature's furry engineers :) ... an ecological triumph

          3
          • Princess

            11 w

            This is truly heartening .

            3
            • zelda ninga

              11 w

              This is very informative thanks for the post.

              7
              • Sarah Chabane

                11 w

                @zelda_ninga_442 you're welcome, hope you learned something about these fascinating creatures!

                1
                • zelda ninga

                  10 w

                  @sarah_chabane_874 Yes I did thank you.

                • Tabitha Kimani

                  11 w

                  Its always very encouraging to witness efforts towards saving the ecosystem including the wetlands paying off.

                  10
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