Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

Welcome back, otter! Federal rule shift could improve kelp health in southern California

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The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has lifted a restriction that has kept California sea otters out of the southern end of their range for the last quarter century. 

It's a remnant of a program federal scientists ran some years ago. In the waning years of Ronald Reagan's presidency, they established a "reserve" population of around 140 otters around San Nichols Island. The idea was to keep otters safe, and help them thrive, away from human activity on the coast. It didn't work: most of the otters died. Around 10 continued to live on the island. And as part of the program, otters were prohibited from Point Conception to the Mexico border. 

L.A. Waterkeeper says the end of the restriction is good news, and not just because otters are awesome animals that seem to have the most fun being rapacious (and having weird sex). L.A. Waterkeeper has been relocating sea urchins away from kelp forests to help the kelp thrive, because otters haven't been around to prey on the urchin for so long: 

“Without the southern sea otter keeping local urchin populations in check, we are forced to temporarily mimic its role in the kelp forest with our volunteer divers,” says Liz Crosson, Executive Director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper.

Otters are good for kelp forests. And kelp forests, called the "redwoods of the sea," are home to hundreds of species valuable to a biologically diverse coastal ecosystem. So, welcome back, otter!

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