Sea Otters: Adorable Partners in the Fight Against Global Warming
by Caitlin O'Connell
A new study published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment shows that sea otters are doing great things for the planet. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz found that by scaring away sea urchins, otters protect the kelp forests essential to absorbing excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
A favorite food of sea urchins, kelp is particularly effective at breaking down carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. The researchers analyzed 40 years of data on otters and kelp blooms from British Columbia to the western edge of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and found kelp forests can absorb 12 times more carbon dioxide with otters around to munch on hungry urchins.
While expanding sea otter populations is not enough on its own to prevent CO2 levels from continuing to rise, learning more about how animals can naturally and positively effect our endangered environment seems like a good idea.
Photo credit: Mike Baird/Wikimedia Commons