Categories
Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

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

Blue Banner

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

Sea Otters and Purple Sea Urchins in California: A Nuanced Story

2014 was the start of an ecological upheaval on the California and Oregon coasts. It started with the collapse of the sunflower sea star due to sea star wasting disease and by the summer, a large “blob” of warm water stretched from Alaska to Baja.  In Monterey Bay, researchers documented a large decline in kelp and corresponding spread of purple sea urchin barrens – even in areas with sea otters. To the surprise of many marine biologists, it appeared at first glancethat sea otters were not controlling purple sea urchins  a result that diverged from the previous 40 years of sea otter science.

Photo: Kate Vylet, Monterey Bay

It makes sense that sea otter don’t eat empty sea urchins (urchins found in” urchins barrens” often contain no uni since they have eaten most of the kelp and run out of food). A recent paper by Josh Smith shows that sea otters responded to the dramatic increase in urchins by consuming over 3 times as many urchins than before 2015. Otters indirectly maintained remnants of kelp forests amid widespread sea urchin outbreaks by preferentially targeting energetically profitable (gonad rich) sea urchins in or near kelp forests. These forest patches maintained by sea otters are the spore sources to ultimately replenish the barren grounds. Learn more…