Can something small and squishy without any arms or legs be the key to saving an ecosystem from total collapse? Sure, these tiny creatures probably aren’t what you’d expect from a typical superhero, but not all heroes wear capes. Instead, this one sports a voracious appetite!
On this edition of Saturdays Around the World, we’re heading to California, USA to see the beautiful story of an ecosystem being restored, through the eyes of a wonderful creature called a “Sea Bunny”!(The best way, if you ask me!)
At the center of an ecosystem’s revival in Monterey Bay, California is a tiny sea hare with a very, very important job. They live atop a type of grass called eelgrass, and just like a Zamboni polishing the ice after a hockey game, they move up and down the blades to clear the algae off, letting more sunlight in.
This sea slug and eelgrass relationship is a really cute example of coevolution, the process when two species evolve together and come to depend on one another!
Unfortunately, though, something threw their delicate dance majorly out of whack almost half a century ago. Otters that lived in the area started disappearing. Meanwhile, agricultural runoff fed the algae in the water so much that large blooms began to fill the surface, blocking out the sun!
So, what do otters, sea hares, and eelgrass have to do with each other? Well, it’s this relationship that helped conservationists bring the land back from the brink.
One of my favorite creators, Deep Look, brings us to Elkhorn Slough, a large winding estuary off of Monterey Bay in California, to get up close and personal with these little wonders to see how saving them saved their home.
Thank you so much to Deep Look for sharing this wonderful bit of insight! If you’d like to see more videos from them, check out their Youtube channel!
If we’ve had the chance to chat in the past two years, I’ve probably mentioned sea slugs and my fresh, undying love for them since learning about their existence (I’ve never been anywhere near one!). This infatuation all goes back to my first article about sea slugs and their super quirky ways of living in this world. Some can even photosynthesize! Like a plant!
An ecosystem is like a community, and like any successful, healthy one, everyone is embraced for their unique contributions!
What we just saw with the otters, sea hares, and eelgrass is called a trophic cascade: when the removal or addition of a top predator drastically changes an ecosystem.
When the otter populations dwindled from fur poaching, crab populations ended up starting to really thrive. Sounds pretty nice for the crabs, right? But the problem for everyone else is their favorite snack: sea hares. With more crabs in the area, the sea hare populations were in serious trouble. And without those sea hares to clean them—combined with the overload of algae on the top of the water—the eelgrass beds started dying. But, fortunately, when otters were reintroduced to the area, things started to improve again!
Pretty amazing, right?
For another example of this, jump into this next article to see what happened when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone! They reformed the shape of rivers!
Everyone has their place
It’s easy to brush off the impact of a creature that eats algae all day, just like it’s easy to brush off how much better our lives are because of janitors, truck drivers, grocers, mail delivery people, and garbage sanitation workers. Their work is critical to the health and success of society! But all too often, it goes overlooked until the moment something’s not quite right.
If there’s something the events of 2020 have taught us, it’s how essential these people are in our communities’ survival. Even in times of crisis, we depend on them to keep our lives running!
Who’s involved in keeping your own community ecosystem running steadily? And where do you fit in?
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