Sea otters may be nature’s secret weapon for battling the rise of carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere and slowing down the effects of global warming. According to a new study out of the University of California, Santa Cruz, the mammals play a big part in allowing quantities of kelp blooms to amass and survive in open water. These kelp blooms help to reduce CO2 levels by absorbing the compound through photosynthesis and releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere.
It all comes down to the sea otter diet: sea urchins; a delicacy most preferred by the otters, they feed voraciously on them in kelp forests. Sea otters help to keep populations of sea urchins at bay, so kelp is given a greater chance to thrive.
In order to get a better idea about the impact sea otters have on kelp forests, researchers from UCSC took a look at 40 years of data concerning otter activity and kelp blooms in an area spanning from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to Canada’s Vancouver Island. After examining the data, the researchers found that where sea otters were most populous sea urchins were less prevalent and kelp was better able to bloom. Although it is an indirect effect, it is important one nonetheless. Kelp forests where sea otters frequent are able to absorb up to 12 times more carbon dioxide then in areas with less of the furry animals.
Funded by both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the full scientific report has been published in the newest (September 7) edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
Happy Ottersday! ^_^