Are Sea Otters the Secret to Beating Global Warming?

In an article posted in the National Geographic, there seems to be a debate whether sea otters are the secret to beating the worrying condition of global warming. The sea otter is a small marine animal that can be found in the northern and eastern coasts of the North Pacific ocean. It is scientifically known as Enhydra Ludris, and they are one of the largest and heaviest members of the weasel family, and weigh between 30 lbs to 100 lbs as adults. Despite their large size, they are still one of the smallest marine animals to date.

Sea Otters have thick, well insulated fur and they are known for being crafty and clever animals. Most sea otters carry a stone that they use for cracking open shellfish and other hard shelled marine invertebrates. One of the favourite foods of the marine otter is the pesky sea urchin.

Sea urchins have long been considered a danger that has a hand in global warming. These animals are known for destroying the ecological important kelp forests, which are considered the “tropical rain forests of the sea”.

Because of global warming and wide spread water pollution, sea urchins have started to become much more prevalent, leading to a boom in their populations. These populations kill kelp forests, which play an important role in absorbing carbon from the environment, helping slow down the degradation of our atmosphere which leads to climate change.

Sea otters are one of the primary predators of these destructive urchins, so they have been hailed as a “keystone species” by conservationists and scientists world wide. A keystone species is a species of organism that is critical to the ecosystem. They have a specific function and their extinction would mean the toppling of current environmental systems.

A study that compiles 40 years of data that was published in the journal: Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment. It states that “otter-assisted kelp forests can absorb as much as 12 times the amount of CO2 [carbon dioxide] from the atmosphere than if it were subject to ravenous sea urchins.”

However, some scientists, like Jeffrey Dukes of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center in Indiana say that while the otters are important in keeping climate change at bay, their help may not be enough to stop the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

While the fact that the otter assisted increase in the absorption of CO2 is undeniable, he says that they are “relatively inconsequential in terms of the big picture of climate change”, and that the focus should be more on changing the current technologies that release the toxic greenhouse gas. However, he also notes that it is interesting that the presence of a predator could affect the ecology so much.

Other scientists like Chris Wilmers of the University of California say that it is “unlikely to have a big effect on global warming”. But James Estes, one of the co-authors of the study, insists that the world now needs every bit of help that it can get, especially from animals like the marine otter.


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