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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Webinar: Dive into a Changing Ecosystem: Kelp Forests & Urchin Barrens (6/24/21)

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What Can We Learn From California’s Ever-Changing Kelp Forest Ecosystem?

Photo: Kate Vylet, Monterey Bay

We are excited to invite Kate Vylet, underwater photographer, scientific diver, and divemaster anchored in Monterey Bay, California, and Josh Smith, Ph.D. Candidate and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California Santa Cruz to speak at our upcoming webinar.

Tucked along California’s coast is a vibrant underwater forest of towering kelp and diverse wildlife. In the last six years, unprecedented outbreaks of purple sea urchins have decimated kelp forests within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, lending several questions: What caused the urchin outbreak? How have sea otters responded? Will intervention and urchin culling enhance kelp recovery? Through underwater photography and observations by Kate Vylet, and a scientific discussion by Josh Smith, this talk will outline how science, art, and community observation intersect to inform the path forward.

This topic correlates directly with the Elakha Alliance’s efforts to reintroduce sea otters on the Oregon coast, where we are also experiencing similar ecological shifts with urchin barrens.

This webinar will take place for free on Thursday June 24th, at 6:30pm PST. Register at the bottom of the page for the Zoom link.

Categories
Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Preserving Kelp Oases: Elakha Partnering on a North Coast Project

Even with a successful translocation of sea otters in Oregon, sea otter population growth and dispersal takes time. If an initial reintroduction occurs on the south coast where most of the best habitat occurs, it may take many decades for a viable sub-population of sea otters to become established further north. There is a chance that trends in kelp declines and spreading urchin barrens will not continue, but what if they do?

In 2020, the Oregon Kelp Alliance (ORKA) launched a pilot project using scientific divers to experimentally remove purple sea urchins to protect specific “kelp oases”. To incentivize long-term removals, ORKA is working with partners to develop a new market for purple sea urchin “uni”. The Elakha Alliance is partnering with ORKA and with David and Talya Semrad from the Oregon Freediving Company to help coordinate a possible second location here on the north coast!  We are submitting a permit application for sea urchin harvest to ODFW soon, and hoping to be in the water this season! We think this effort will not only provide valuable insights into urchin management, but help engage the more divers and freedivers in kelp conservation. More to come soon.