For the last 110 years, sea otters have been missing from Oregon’s coast line. This keystone species is massively important for the health of kelp forests which evolved with sea otters for hundreds of years before they vanished due to overhunting for the fur trade. The Elakha Alliance was formed in 2018 by Tribal, nonprofit, and conservation leaders with the goal of restoring sea otters and making the Oregon coastal ecosystem more resilient.

Chanel Hason, Director of Outreach & Community Relations for Elakha Alliance, mentioned that through their work with the public, they discovered that roughly 75% of people they interact with were not aware sea otters are no longer found along the Oregon coast. The organization now focuses its work on sharing the role that otters once played and how they can help restore kelp forest ecosystems and helping find ways to return them to their native habitat.   Sea otters are key to kelp ecosystem health because they eat species like purple sea urchins who overgraze on kelp if their populations are left unchecked.

“The successful reintroduction of sea otters to Oregon must be informed by the communities directly impacted,” Hason said of the Elakha Alliance whose mission also includes restoring cultural connections Oregon indigenous people have historically had with sea otters.

Hason added, “This is why having resources to bring on a Coastal Community Coordinator who lives on the Oregon coast has been pivotal to Elakha Alliance and enabled us to build and maintain relationships and conversations with the people who live and work there.” As part of this commitment to integrating indigenous perspectives and history, Elakha Alliance’s board contains a number of enrolled members of western tribes. 

In 2021, the Roundhouse Foundation provided the Elakha Alliance with grants to sustain general operations as well as funding to better understand the potential impacts of sea otter reintroduction on fisheries important to Oregon’s coastal communities.

Published On: April 22nd, 2024 / Categories: Featured Grant Stories, Foundation Highlights, Grant News /