Let’s play a game. What do you immediately think of when we say the word: sea otter?
If you said cute, curious or cuddly then you’re not alone. Sea otters are absolutely adorable and they’re also very intelligent. But did you know they’re also very productive? Considered a keystone species for marine life near coastal regions, Sea otters are leading the way in the fight against climate change. But how do they do it?
What you need to know about climate change is that it’s being caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions that have the propensity to trap heat in our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is one of the most potent contributors of this heat-trapping phenomenon and it’s being released at alarming rates via fossil fuel combustion technologies.
Well, sea otters live in Kelp forests. These are large underwater forests present in the ocean’s shallow regions. The dark green and brown Kelp plants are amazing at absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide. They basically use up CO2 emissions for photosynthesis—that gives them the energy to reproduce.
But there’s a catch. Kelp forests are constantly under attack from sea urchins. These are small, spikes-bearing marine creatures that just love a good old meal comprising of Kelp weeds. If there are no predatory species nearby, you can imagine that the sea urchin population will increase dramatically. They can easily devour entire Kelp stalks.
The good news is that sea otters prey on urchins. They regulate the sea urchin population so Kelp forests can thrive and continue to capture large swathes of CO2from the atmosphere. Recent studies show that sea otters can help Kelp forests flourish to a point where they can capture up to 12 times more carbon dioxide than if they were just left on the mercy of sea urchins.
There was in fact a time when sea otters weren’t around to keep the urchin population in check. That’s because around the late 19th century, otters were being hunted for their fur, to the point of extinction. Fortunately, due to ongoing conservation efforts the sea otter population has been revived and is safe in the shores of North America today.
It may seem like sea otters play a minor role in abating climate change across the globe but their small impact has a lesson for all of us. Conservation efforts matter! When we protect wildlife—whether they are jaguars, pumas or eagles living in the forests of Brazil—we’re protecting plants that are crucial in reducing the amount of CO2present in the atmosphere. Given the rate at which climate change is pacing, we can take all the help that we can get.
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