Otters for a Healthy Ecosystem

The dwindling sea otter population and California’s coastal ecosystem need your help. Tens of thousands sea otters used to thrive on the Californian coast but now the species is fighting for its survival. Only 2,700 southern sea otters exist today, and that number is declining.

Sea otters are integral to maintaining a thriving ecosystem because they feed on sea urchins, naturally regulating the species. Without sea otters, the urchin population booms and inhibits the growth of kelp forests by feeding on the roots that anchor kelp to the ocean floor. Kelp forests provide many natural benefits to the coastal ecosystem by serving as a habitat and nurseries for fish like herring and rockfish and as part of the food chain for dry coastal ecosystems.

However, sea otters haven’t had the opportunity to fulfill their role in a healthy ecosystem since the “No-Otter Zone” from Point Conception to the Mexican border was established more than two decades ago to protect the shellfish industry in southern California. Sea otters, oblivious to their habitat restrictions, are stripped of their protections as a threatened species upon entering the No-Otter Zone.

The shellfish industry, clear supporters of the No-Otter Zone, is only focused on their own short-term interests rather than supporting a healthy marine ecosystem and the future livelihood of the species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the No-Otter Zone, is now accepting public commentary to help determine the future of the No-Otter Zone. It is time for Californians to step up and protect their coastal ecosystem and an iconic and cherished animal, the southern sea otter.

Take a stand: Visit to learn how to make your voice heard and support the return of sea otters to southern California.

Jason Lutterman is the program manager for Friends of the Sea Otter

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