Carlie Davis: Reintroduce sea otters to help tame urchin population, protect kelp forests

Carlie DavisWhen I explored the tide pools of the Oregon coast this summer, I wasn't left with the feeling of awe I expected, but with concern.

Tide pools should be filled with a variety of life, but the variety seems to be missing. Rocky fields and spiky urchins are nearly all that's left to see. Where did the life go?

For years, the coast has been undergoing a quiet demolition beneath its waves. Purple sea-urchin populations have exploded, and they're chowing down on kelp forests without mercy. Their overgrazing has been catastrophic for our near-shore ecosystems. Some experts estimate we've lost around 95% of our kelp forests, now desolate wastelands called "urchin barrens" where few species survive.

A critical key in stopping this destruction has been missing for generations — the sea otter. They were hunted for their fur in the 20th century, and have been endangered since 1977. A keystone species and efficient predator of purple sea urchins, sea otters are essential to protecting kelp forests. But they won't wander back on their own.

We can help solve this "urchin" problem. We can reintroduce sea otters to our coast and restore the kelp forests. A proposal will be presented soon to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do just that.

That's why I've joined the fight. I've teamed up in canvassing efforts this summer with Environment Oregon, a nonprofit housed in Portland, to spread awareness of the issue and gain public support.

We need the help of every Oregonian to "make waves" — let's bring back sea otters!

Carlie Davis is a resident of urban unincorporated Clackamas.

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