They are stars on the Internet but also do a lot for the planet. In addition to being cute, sea otters help ecosystems capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it, according to researchers interviewed by the BBC.
Transformed into biomass and deep-water detritus, the carbon can no longer be converted into carbon dioxide which would pollute the atmosphere. Thus, otters contribute in their own way to the fight against global warming, relays Slate.
Previously widespread on the coasts of the North Pacific Ocean, sea otters have long been hunted for their fur. Its disappearance in certain areas has highlighted its importance in regulating the marine environment, with the role it plays in the proper development of kelp forests.
Otters eat a quarter of their body weight per day and partly feed on sea urchins. By doing so, they preserve the kelp, the main food of sea urchins and a crucial element of the underwater balance. Where the otter has disappeared, sea urchins are multiplying, kelp is scarce and it is the aquatic desert.
Millions of tons of carbon stored
Otters also help preserve seagrass beds. By feeding on crabs, they spare the grazers such as slugs and snails. These animals have a beneficial role by scraping the algae present on the grasses, which allows the herbaria to draw more light.
The researchers, who studied an area of the North Pacific between the Aleutian archipelago and Vancouver Island, showed that the presence of otters stored 4.4 to 8.7 million tonnes of carbon compared to a otter-free zone. This is more carbon than that emitted by a million private cars for a year.