Study: Sea otters’ insatiable appetites help limit coastal erosion

Source: Axios


Sea otters have helped save a California marshland from erosion after returning to the area where they were once hunted to near-extinction.

The big picture: That’s according to a study published in the journal Nature Wednesday, which credits the semiaquatic mammals and their insatiable appetite for plant-eating marsh crabs for the turnaround.

  • “It would cost millions of dollars for humans to rebuild these creekbanks and restore these marshes,” said co-author Brian Silliman, a professor of marine conservation biology at Duke University, in a statement accompanying that study.
  • “The sea otters are stabilizing them for free in exchange for an all-you-can-eat crab feast.”

State of play: The landscape has changed notably since the sea otters returned to their former habitat in Elkhorn Slough, a salt marsh-dominated coastal estuary in Monterey Bay, central California, in the decades following the introduction of conservation efforts. 

  • “After a few decades, in areas the sea otters had recolonized, salt marshes and creekbanks were becoming more stable again, despite rising sea levels, increased water flow from inland sources, and greater pollution,” said study lead author Brent Hughes, a Sonoma State University marine ecologist, in a statement.

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