An Evaluation of Current and Emerging Public Policy on Southern Sea Otter Conservation Programs

Authors: DeAnn Willsey*, Temple University
Topics: Animal Geographies, Coastal and Marine, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: animal geography, sea otter conservation, sea otters, ocean, environmental policy
Session Type: Poster
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) is a keystone species vital to the health of the Pacific Ocean’s coastal ecosystems. Research has shown that the presence of sea otters on the coast of California has revitalized habitats for sea grasses, kelp, fish, birds, and other animals (Carswell, 2019). With climate change and warming oceans, sea grasses and kelp are essential in maintaining saltwater clarity, reducing coastal erosion, and providing a habitat for a wide variety of animals. This poster describes the benefits of prioritizing sea otter conservation over unsustainable energy sources and the shellfish industry. When sea otter populations thrive, they serve a much more important role of combating climate change and restoring the health of the Pacific coastline which has been ravaged by human activities for centuries. Beyond environmental advantages, sea otter conservation programs have shown the potential to provide an economic benefit of $100 million to the state of California, partly through ecotourism and other recreational activities (Loomis, 2005). A major threat to these plans are proposed federal policies by the Trump administration to open up previously banned off-shore drilling on the entire Pacific coastline. One controversial policy that has not been fully explored is the possibility of subspecies breeding with the northern sea otter to increase genetic variation (Larson, et al., 2012). A case is made to expand sea otter conservation surrogacy and translocation programs, as well as the use of alternative energy sources to reduce human dependence on fossil fuels.

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