MOSS LANDING, Calif. - On a quiet day in Moss Landing, 25 researchers gathered in front of nearly 100 community members to discuss the importance of the Elkhorn Slough Reserve.
"The community wants to take care of this special place and make sure it's there as a legacy for future generations," said Dr. Kerstin Wasson, the Research Coordinator with the Elkhorn Slough.
Talks on Tuesday involved everything from eelgrass to oak trees to the fan favorite, sea otters. Researcher Sarah Espinosa of UCSC received the 2017 Conservation Research Award, given by the Elkhorn Slough, for her three year study on the sea otter population in California.
"They are a keystone species in kelp forests," said Espinosa, "and we're now discovering they're a keystone species in estuarine environments."
So they're more than just a cute, furry face. When otters thrive they influence the environment around them to thrive. And for now, Espinosa says that's the case.
"Otters have a chance to be themselves," added Espinosa, "but they're still endangered and a threatened species so we'd still like to more sea otters in California."
Scientists are also learning more and more about otters each day. Discovering tendencies they haven't seen before because otters haven't been this healthy in decades.
"We have the highest density of sea otters anywhere along the California coast, right here at the Elkhorn Slough," said Ron Eby, a volunteer scientist with the slough.
Moving forward into the future, researchers are feeling optimistic about the condition of the Elkhorn Slough Reserve and that means a healthier environment.
"We're identifying what's impacting the slough," said Dave Feliz, Elkhorn Slough Reserve Manager, "and trying to turn that into conservation measures that will help things in the future."