Morgan Marie Rector (copy)

A southern sea otter swims by, carrying her tired pup after an afternoon of swimming lessons in Monterey Bay.

The Carmel-based nonprofit Friends of the Sea Otter announced on Aug. 11 that it is shutting down the organization and merging into the much larger Defenders of Wildlife, a Washington, D.C.-based conservation nonprofit. 

Jennifer Covert, the chair of the board of Friends of the Sea Otter, called the move a “strategic decision” in an email blast to supporters. 

“The combination of our two organizations will ensure the efficient and effective use of resources to accomplish our shared goal of full recovery of the sea otter and its habitat,” she wrote. 

Defenders will receive the local nonprofit’s assets, valued at $661,215 in 2019, according to financial disclosure forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Defenders, by comparison, reported $39.9 million in assets and $32.2 million in contributions in 2019. 

In a statement, Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders, credited the local nonprofit with helping bring back sea otters “from the brink of extinction.”

“For more than 50 years, Friends of the Sea Otter has worked tirelessly to ensure that sea otters are properly protected under federal and state law,” Clark said. “Their conservation legacy is truly remarkable.”

That legacy includes getting southern sea otters listed as protected species under state and federal endangered species laws, amending the Marine Mammal Protection Act to better protect sea otters, and changing fishing rules to eliminate net-related drownings of sea otters.  

In her message to supporters, Covert wrote that the future of wildlife conservation efforts is increased collaboration across different species and with other elements of the environmental movement. 

“Given the realities of climate change, the challenges of promoting sustainable coexistence between humans and wildlife, and the threats to critical legislation that protects myriad species, including our beloved sea otter, conserving wildlife is more consequential than ever,” she wrote. “In times like these we need to work together as never before—across the entire environmental movement and with diverse communities—to share our values and our commitment to wildlife protection."

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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