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The return of sea otters to an estuary on the central Californian coast has significantly improved the health of seagrass, new research has found.
Seagrass was deemed to be heading for extinction in this region before the otters returned. Scientists found that the animals triggered a chain reaction of events that boosted the water-dwelling plants.
Otters eat crabs that prey upon small invertebrates in the water. But these invertebrates are necessary for seagrass to survive, because they feed on algae which, if left unchecked, block out sunlight.
Seagrass acts as a nursery habitat for many species of fish and it uses CO2 from sea water and the atmosphere, thus potentially helping with climate change.
Brent Hughes, lead author of the study, said: "This estuary is part of one of the most polluted systems in the entire world, but you can still get this healthy thriving habitat, and it's all because of the sea otters.