As I read the article this week about excessive numbers of sea urchin in nearby ocean waters, I was immediately reminded of the excellent story I saw on OPB recently about keystone predators. This story explained how in every ecosystem, there appears to be a particular predator that maintains the delicate balance of that ecosystem. The first segment pointed out that starfish are keystone predators for tidal pools, as a scientist learned when he removed starfish from a tidal pool. In Yellowstone Park and throughout the Rockies, wolves are keystone predators that affect everything from tree growth to the paths of rivers and streams. Without them, elk overpopulate and overeat vegetation. Each segment of the ecosystem affects the next one.
With that in mind, I wondered, what keystone predator was lacking where sea urchins overpopulate?
The primary predator for sea urchins is sea otters. So I searched for sea otters and the first thing I saw was that we nearly wiped out the sea otter population until it was placed on the endangered species list. The animal recovered to the point of being labeled threatened. Various factors are contributing to their loss again, including shark predation. I seem to have seen more reports of sharks in Pacific Northwest waters recently. If so, is that a result of warming water?
There are an estimated 3,000 Southern Sea Otters left. The species are Southern and Alaskan. I ran across a list of things you — yes, YOU — can do to help sea otters survive so our kelp forests are not destroyed:
- Reduce, reuse, and recycle whenever you can.
- Dispose of hazardous wastes properly. (batteries, oil, paint, more)
- Grow a garden ...
- Use nontoxic household cleaning products.
- Don't litter or dump materials into storm drains. (OR ANYWHERE ELSE)
- Pick up after your pets.
- Use less water.
- Purchase sustainable, recycled, biodegradable goods.
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There are more, but if I can find it, so can you.
Kelp forests are vital to the survival of many species. They provide nurseries, shelter, and food for thousands of our ocean species. This is our planet, and we don’t have a spare. Let’s stop using the ocean as a garbage dump.