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Expanded Board, Staff Ready to Confront New Obstacles to Sea Otter Conservation

December 17, 2012

We are excited to announce that we have recently expanded our Board of Directors upon the recently added staff. This is all in anticipation of new challenges to improve the important conservation efforts to save sea otters throughout their range from Alaska to Southern California.

Founded in 1968 by renowned conservationist Margaret Owings, Friends of the Sea Otter has been at the forefront of every action necessary to bring the California sea otter back from the brink of extinction, from the initial listing of the species in 1977 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), to the closure of areas to fishing activities that kill otters by entanglement, to the preparation of a new recovery plan and research on diseases causing high mortality. Currently we are working with a coalition of environmental groups to bring an end to the zonal management program that would prevent sea otters from expanding into their former range in Southern California. In Alaska, we have been active in achieving the listing of the Southwest Alaska stock under the ESA, the preparation of a recovery plan, and the fight against the expanded hunt of sea otters by Alaska Natives for handicraft items.

Friends of the Sea Otter, the longest established sea otter conservation organization in the world, was founded by Margaret Owings (pictured above) in 1968. We have recently revamped our board and staff to tackle the pressing issues that sea otters will face.

Friends of the Sea Otter, the longest established sea otter conservation organization in the world, was founded by Margaret Owings (pictured above) in 1968. We have recently revamped our board and staff to tackle the pressing issues that sea otters will face.

At the moment, the decision whether to allow for sea otter population growth in California necessary for recovery under the ESA is due this year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Fishing organizations are threatening litigation against such a decision. At the same time, an amendment sponsored by Congressman Elton Gallegly is threatening to impede FWS in reaching the decision to end zonal management while giving fishermen a blank check to kill sea otters incidental to their fishing operations.

With all of these threats calling for aggressive environmental activism, FSO has expanded its team to confront every challenge.

New to the Board are: Tim Eichenberg, formerly with the California Coastal Commission, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Environmental Defense Center, and more recently San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission; Joyce Capuano who was with Smith Barney, a Registered Investment Advisory firm, and then started her own company, Artemis Investment Management LLC; Sarah Beyrich, who worked many years with Artemis Investment Management LLC and now serves as Director on the board of a 100 year-old manufacturing company in West Virginia; Teresa Clemmer who is presently serving as Of Counsel with the law firm of Bessenyey & Van Tuyn LLC in Anchorage, Alaska and previously was a litigating attorney with the Environmental Law Center Clinic at the Vermont Law School with extensive experience in environmental and natural resources law, including endangered species protection, federal land management, clean air and water, and many other subject areas; Cindy Tucey who currently teaches undergraduate courses in American Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Dr. James Estes, a professor in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and one of the world’s leading sea otter biologists; and Teiko Saito who was with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where she was the Chief in the Office of Management Authority working on permit issues, among other things, and most recently as the Acting Assistant Director for the Office of International Affairs. These seven new members join existing Board members Chris Miller who has been involved with Friends of the Sea Otter for over 10 years and is an active volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium; Jennifer Covert, who has volunteered for many animal focused conservation organizations and has been with Friends and the Sea Otter for four years; Pam Ferris-Olson, a freelance writer, who wrote a thesis on the conservation of the southern sea otter and who wrote papers with the founder of FSO, Margaret Owings; and Jud Vandevere who has written multiple scientific articles on sea otters and is an honorary board member.

We have also added two new staff members. Jim Curland rejoins FSO as its new Advocacy Program Director, after having spent nearly 11 years as Marine Program Associate for Defenders of Wildlife. Jim previously worked for FSO from 1998 to 2000. Frank Reynolds, , has been hired as Program Manager. He has had extensive experience in a number of ocean organizations within the Monterey Bay. Jim and Frank join Jennifer Covert, who besides her board duties is the long-time Senior Program Manager, as the front-line troops in FSO’s battle to protect this beloved species. The FSO staff will be assisted in this mission by the group’s attorneys, Don Baur of Perkins Coie in Washington, D.C., and Don Mooney in Davis, California.

Senior Program Manager and Board member, Jennifer Covert, says “FSO is delighted and invigorated by the addition of such an outstanding group of advocates from all relevant disciplines to our Board. They will guide our dedicated staff and outside legal team in taking whatever actions are necessary to protect this imperiled species and its habitat.”

Jim Curland states, “It is great to be back at FSO, as we enter a new stage in the sea otter conservation campaign that is as important as any battle that has been fought before. Protecting this species will help restore the marine environment because, as a keystone species that preys on herbivores, sea otters assist in the growth of kelp forests, which in turn promote biological diversity and the economic gains that come with healthy oceans.”

Friends of the Sea Otter Announces Winter Poetry Contest

October 31, 2012

Friends of the Sea Otter welcomes anyone and everyone of all ages to join in on our Sea Otter Poetry Contest!

The winner of the contest will be featured in our Annual Winter Newsletter, The Raft, which is enjoyed by over 2,000 of our members across the world. Runner-ups’ poems will be featured on our Facebook page for all of our followers to enjoy and share!

The rules are simple. Here they are:

Subject: Anything and everything positive about sea otters!

Length of Poem: Anywhere from 5 to 175 words. Get creative! Haikus, ballads, sonnets, limmericks, etc. are all welcome!

Submitting and Judging: Please send all poems to info@seaotters.org, where they will be judged by Friends of the Sea Otter staff and the winner picked upon by unanimous decision. 

Deadline: All poems should be submitted no later than 5:00 PM PST on November 22, 2012.

Prize: The winner of the Poetry Contest will be announced on November 26, 2012. Their poem will be featured in Friends of the Sea Otter’s Annual Winter Newsletter and will be apart of our organization’s rich 40-year history. Runner-ups will be featured on our Facebook page in the following weeks after poems are submitted!

Best of luck! Let’s see how creative we can be in describing the beloved sea otter!

10th Annual Sea Otter Awareness Week a True Success

October 5, 2012

In a year in which sea otter conservation and awareness is more important than ever, organizations, agencies, zoos, aquariums, natural history museums, educators, and others from around the world rallied together to promote the preservation of this charismatic and beloved marine mammal during Sea Otter Awareness Week 2012. From Portugal to Minnesota, France to Santa Barbara…and almost everywhere in between, the amount of effort put forth into the 10th annual week and in increasing people’s knowledge regarding the status of sea otters was unprecedented.

The Shedd Aquarium made sure that this sea otter was fully aware that an entire week is dedicated to increasing the marine mammal’s conservation. The aquarium, along with over thirty other participants  made for the most successful Sea Otter Awareness Week yet. (Photo ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez)

But why have an entire week dedicated to otters?

Simple. And it’s no secret.

Sea otter populations are not close to where they should be. Annual deaths are at an all-time high in California. And, don’t forget, the entire coast of Southern California is still completely off limits to sea otters.

But its not all bad news…

Reasons to increase sea otter awareness do not all stem from negative statistics. Recent studies have shown that sea otters have incredible positive impacts on their habitats, such as increasing kelp bed coverage which results in increases of carbon sequestration. Who would have thought climate change mitigation and otters would ever share the same sentence, but it’s true, and people need to know.

So for these reasons, and of course the obvious ones, there is an entire week dedicated to increasing both public awareness and conservation efforts of the sea otter.

This year over 30 different zoos, aquariums, scientists, filmmakers, institutes and organizations alike held talks, open discussions, movies, and events to promote the conservation of sea otters. At one of the more glamorous events of the week, the popular film, Otter 501, showed to a packed house of over 700 people in the Sunset Center of Carmel, CA. Overall the week was a complete success and would not have been so without the incredible support from all the different participants who contributed.

Every week is Sea Otter Awareness Week at Friends of the Sea Otter, but last week was made that much more special by the hard work and dedication from a number of organizations. Thank you to all who participated, and we look forward to another successful week next year! Please check www.seaotterweek.org for a list of  the partners and the events that took  place during the week.

Sea Otters Quietly Battling Climate Change

September 19, 2012
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Global Warming Warriors: A new study reveals sea otters help to mitigate climate change by protecting kelp forests that promote carbon sequestration, as seen above. (Photo: Peggy Patterson)

In a world where climate policy usually moves at the speed of a sea slug rather than that of a sailfish, sea otters are quietly having a positive influence on climate change mitigation…on their own terms. A recent study published by UC Santa Cruz scientists, Jim Estes and Chris Wilmers, found that sea otters are contributing heavily to the uphill battle against climate change. How is this possible, you ask?
To understand, we have to dive deeper, and examine the intricacy of our ocean’s capabilities. Similar to jungles and trees, kelp forests help sequester carbon from the atmosphere, slowing the atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gasses. This is a very powerful component of kelp forests, which also harbor a vast array of marine life. But much like bulldozers in the Amazon, kelp forests have their threats as well. What could pose such a threat? Sea urchins, ravenous creatures that devastate kelp beds, not only destroy habitats for marine life living amongst kelp forest, but can now be considered facilitators in accelerating climate change. These animals are capable of doing extreme damage to kelp forests in very small time frames.

Enter the Otter

Sea otters have long been considered protectors of the kelp forests, and for good reason. The sea otter’s diet relies heavily on sea urchins that can consume 30 feet of kelp forest in less than a month. So what does this underwater relationship look like? Simply put: the sea otter consumes the sea urchin which indirectly results in safeguarding the kelp forests (that harbor life and also sequestrate carbon). The higher the otter populations, the denser the kelp forests; the denser kelp forests, the more carbon captured. The study shows that kelp forests that have flourishing otter populations are capable of absorbing 12 times more carbon than areas that were not overpopulated with sea urchins. Although their new role as a “global warming warriors” might be new to them, this study shows that the vital role sea otters play in their underwater ecosystems now transcends the ocean and impacts the entire planet. Conserving and restoring otter populations makes for a healthier planet. Read more about the study here.

USGS Report Shows Stagnant Population for Sea Otters

August 22, 2012

The U.S. Geological Survey’s spring census report on sea otter populations was released today. Signs show that the population index of sea otters has increased compared to 2010, however not to the levels we would like to see.  The USGS lists this year’s population index for the southern sea otter at 2,792, an almost 2% increase in the marine mammals’ population index since 2010.

Although a halt in the decrease of the population seems encouraging, these numbers are not strong enough to celebrate. This survey strongly helps reinforce the need to increase the southern sea otters’ range geographically. Small population growth in the center of their geographic range, where maximum sea otter populations exist, suggests that populations could be leveling off.

The survey also reports that 335 otters died last year, close to 12% of the current population. Harmful algal toxins, parasites and infectious diseases, mating trauma, emaciation, bacterial infections, heart disease and boat strikes were some of the main causes of death for the southern sea otter. As well, on top of these causes, the report shows an increase in the number of sea otters attacked and killed by Great White sharks last year, the highest on record. More studies will be needed to determine the recent spike in shark attack rates, but it should be noted that this is an alarming trend.

Friends of the Sea Otter is cautiously optimistic of these results as the increase in population numbers is not yet a sustained trend and recovery is slow. The highest mortality number on record occurred last year, which is still a major concern for us. As well, we are not any closer to discovering the array of reasons for this increase in mortality and we would like to emphasize that disease and pollution are just a piece of this complex puzzle.  Moreover, we need to understand what is causing these populations to stagnate. As studies reveal more information, Friends of the Sea Otter will ensure that our members and followers will be updated accordingly.

Summer News from Friends of the Sea Otter

August 13, 2012

Happy Summer from Friends of the Sea Otter! As the seasons begin to slowly change we’d like to update you on some changes from our side. There is also some exciting news and issues taking shape affecting sea otters and their near-shore environment. We hope that you find this newsletter informative and that it inspires you to take action on the many threats facing sea otters today.

New Staff Changes

June was a very exciting month for Friends of the Sea Otter. Our organization welcomed two new staff in Jim Curland and Frank Reynolds. Jim Curland is our new Advocacy Program Director while Frank Reynolds will serve as Program Manager. Both join Jennifer Covert, Senior Program Manager, who has been with FSO for 5 years and is also on the Board of Directors.

Jim Curland has made a full circle return to the organization which started his career in the environmental non-profit world 14 years ago and after nearly an 11-year stint at Defenders of Wildlife, where he worked on sea otter conservation, education, policy and research efforts and a variety of other marine conservation initiatives. Jim’s role with FSO will focus on sea otter policy, advocacy, education, and research issues as well as fundraising and organizational relationships with members and supporters, the general public and colleagues.

Frank Reynolds received his Master’s degree in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute for International Studies and his B.A. from UC Berkeley in Globalization and the Environment. He has experience working with several ocean conservation organizations in the greater Monterey Bay area including the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Ocean Champions. As well, he contributed to Environmental Defense Fund’s tri-national shark conservation agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Cuba. Frank is a proficient Spanish speaker. Frank’s role will focus on overseeing FSO’s various programs, including our volunteer, outreach and education activities, managing social media content and posts, in addition to assisting Jim with sea otter policy and advocacy, while also tending to the ever important donor communications and administrative tasks necessary to running an organization.

In the coming months, more good news will come about as recruitment for a revised Board of Directors is underway. The individuals in consideration, coupled with our present board members will constitute a stellar board. We look forward to sharing this information with you soon

Jim can be contacted by email at jcurland@seaotters.org and by phone at (831)726-9010. Frank can be contacted by email at freynolds@seaotters.org and by phone at (831)915-3275.

FSO’s Annual Meeting

On Friday, September 28, Friends of the Sea Otter will hold its annual meeting at a place TBD, at 7:00 PM. Once the location is determined we will follow-up with you directly. We kindly ask that if you plan to attend the annual meeting to RSVP with the number of people in your group. Please send your RSVP to Frank Reynolds by September 14th. This meeting will coincide with the 10th annual Sea Otter Awareness Week and will be open to members and non-members alike.

Sea Otter Awareness Week

The 10th annual Sea Otter Awareness Week is September 23-29. This event is held each year to inform the public about the importance of sea otters and the nearshore ecosystem they inhabit. It is also an opportunity to discuss the latest issues facing sea otters. Zoos, aquariums, marine institutions, natural history museums, educators, and others participate in this event all over the country. Check out our website for more information!

H.R. 4043: A Bill Against Sea Otter Conservation

As of August 2012 Representative Gallegly’s (R-Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties) H.R. 4043, a bill that is the antithesis to achieving sea otter recovery, has unfortunately made some progress. The bill passed the House and the next step is to see if the Senate addresses the sea otter component in its Defense Reauthorization bill.

While the bill is referred to as the “Military Readiness and Southern Sea Otter Conservation Act“ it is, in fact, not beneficial to sea otters at all and would set back the current process to end the ill conceived no-otter zone that was established in 1987. The no-otter zone prohibits sea otters from entering coastal waters south of Point Conception (near Santa Barbara), but fails to achieve its goals and is currently undergoing the process to be terminated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by this December.

H.R. 4043 moves to House floor for vote

May 18, 2012
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H.R. 4043 strips federal protections for sea otters in Southern California.

An edited version of a bill that would have detrimental effects on sea otters has passed the Natural Resources Committee and is now headed to the House floor for a vote as an amendment to H.R. 4310, the Defense Authorization Act.

The bill, called H.R. 4043 and originally introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R – Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties), is worded differently than the original version that was introduced back in February. Friends of the Sea Otter and our partners, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Defenders of Wildlife, succeeded in altering language that would have changed the monitoring program already in place for sea otters at San Nicolas Island.

However, commercial fishing special interests have insisted on replacing text which would have required the federal government to maintain commercial shellfish harvest levels at current levels despite an expanding sea otter range. The new and unprecedented language instead supersedes the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and strips protections for sea otters that live south of Point Conception.

The new language would essentially authorize fishermen to continue irresponsible fishing practices that have been proven to ensnare, trap, and kill sea otters. Normally the protections afforded the threatened southern sea otter under the ESA and MMPA would prohibit “incidental take” that might occur when a sea otter is trapped in large-scale fishing gear, in order to protect the species.

H.R. 4043’s new language, for the first time in history, exempts sea otters in Southern California from these protections under the country’s most landmark wildlife protection laws. This is not only disastrous for sea otters, but the bill also sets a horrible precedent for all species protected under the ESA and MMPA that might prove to be an “inconvenience” to a well-connected special interest group.

The bill will be voted on as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization when it reaches the floor of the House of Representatives.

(5/18/2012) UPDATE: House passed HR 4310, including the Gallegly amendment stripping Southern California’s sea otters of incidental take protections under Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. Click to read FSO’s Press Release. FSO will continue to monitor and oppose the Gallegly amendment in the Senate.

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