Sea Otters – The Answer to Global Warming?
You wouldn’t necessarily know it by just looking, but the cute, playful mammals we call the sea otter is one of the most important species to the survival of the ocean, and therefore, our world. Scientists are now estimating that the sea otter is responsible for some 10 million tons of sequestered carbons in the marine ecosystem, if their population were to rise back to pre-hunting levels. This would make them a vital species for the fight again climate change.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was discovered that sea otters had some of the densest fur of all mammals, with some million hairs per square inch, they were hunted to near extinction. By 1970, conservation efforts had boosted the population back to about 125,000, only to slide back into a decline. Best estimates put the total population at around 70,000.
the carbon offset they would create in one year through preserved kelp would be worth $700 million
The importance of the sea otter in carbon offsets was recently brought to the public’s attention of Chris Wilmer, of the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is joined by Peter Aldhous, writing for New Scientist magazine, who both point out that sea otters are a keystone species, because they eat sea urchins that they pick out of kelp beds. If left unchecked, sea urchins would eventually decimate the ocean’s vast kelp forests.
To put it in perspective, if the sea otter’s population was resorted to pre-hunting levels, the carbon offset they would create in one year through preserved kelp would be worth $700 million, per the current European Union carbon trading market. With this fact in hand, a company capped off at a regulated emissions level might decide to fund a re-introductory program of sea otters to earn carbon offsets. On the other hand, would a cap and trade scenario, treating carbon pollution like a commodity, really reduce pollution levels or the right incentive for preservation? The European Union model seems to produce mixed results. Some cases show pollution levels as slightly lower than when the program started in 2005, while others argue pollution levels are actually higher.
In any case, in the Pacific, efforts to save an otter population appears not to be just a case of ’save the cute furry animals first’, but an effort to save a vital animal to the balance health of our kelp forests, and thus our entire ocean.