WWF-Russia and Kinder® join efforts to support the Commander Islands Nature Reserve in studying of sea otter population
Sea otters were introduced to Bering Island in the early 1970s for the second time in history, which was approximately a hundred years after their extinction in the region due to unsustainable human hunting practices. For the next twenty years the sea otter population was constantly growing, impacting the whole ecosystem. Sea otters caused a population decline of crabs, king crabs, sea cucumbers, and octopuses. Sea urchin biomass dropped a hundredfold.
However, in the beginning of the 21st century, scientific researchers revealed a twofold decline of the sea otter population in the island from 2007 to 2015. The next round of research proved the negative trend continuing, demonstrating a 54% decline of the population in the period from 2016 to 2019.
The scientists of the Nature Reserve plan to run laboratory tests and large-scale research using drones and sonars studying the whole food chain from sea otters to urchins and seaweed. The researchers will map sea otter habitats within the Reserve’s boundaries defining the most vulnerable areas in the sea otter ecosystem.
The main research will be conducted in the summer-fall timeframe. Although the first data will be acquired in July, preliminary results are expected to become public in winter. It may even take several years to reach final conclusions.
As the result of this work, the scientists plan to present suggestions on sea otter conservation (if the population decline is caused by anthropogenic impact) or develop new approaches to population monitoring (if the population decline is caused by natural ecosystem degradation).