Have you ever been to Monterey or Santa Cruz and seen those cute little otters hanging out near the beach? I have and, until recently, I never thought twice about why we don’t see otters like that in Santa Barbara or L.A.

It turns out that although Southern sea otters are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, a “no-otter” zone is enforced between Point Conception and the U.S.- Mexico border. Established in 1987 through a Congressional exemption, this zone was an attempt to balance industry interests with the needs of a species. A number of otters are translocated (removed and relocated) from this zone and either brought north or put on San Nicolas Island as an experimental population.

Such efforts have failed and the sea otter population is declining. We shouldn’t be limiting the natural habitat of this species by creating imaginary boundaries on its expansion. If anything, removing the “no-otter” zone would lead to population growth and eventually removal from the endangered species list. Furthermore, otters keep coastal ecosystems healthy and attract eco-tourism. They prevent sea urchin populations from booming and then destroying kelp forests, which in turn promotes biodiversity.

There will be a hearing tonight from 5 to 8 p.m. at Fleischman Auditorium in the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. I encourage you all to come show your support for full protection for the sea otter under the Endangered Species Act.

Matthew Gilliland is a fourth-year environmental studies major.