Sea otter and kelp forest economics

Dr. Kai Chan is a professor in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, talks about his research on the economic impacts of sea otters within kelp forests off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

I'm Kai Chan and I'm a professor in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability and at the Biodiversity Research Centre and I run CHANS Lab the Connecting \nHuman and Natural Systems lab.

What do you research?

For years I've been working with colleagues both at UBC and elsewhere on sea otters, kelp forests, and coastal communities off the west coast of Vancouver Island. What we found was effectively that although sea otters have really important and concerning impacts on coastal communities who rely upon shellfish resources, both economically and culturally, so urchins, crabs, clams, geoduck clams as well as abalone. It's also the case that they have tremendous diffuse benefits for all of us in the form of recreational opportunities, sequestering carbon in the deep ocean, and also supplementing fisheries like halibut, herring, and salmon. The benefits of sea otters that we calculated across all of those diverse ecosystem services, even accounting for the cost in the form of the shellfish that the sea otters eat, turns out to be multiple tens of millions of dollars a year by our best estimate of just those economic benefits.

What do you teach?

I teach both undergraduate and graduate courses at UBC in the environmental sciences program. I teach ENVR 430 which is the ecological dimensions of sustainability. I teach interdisciplinary research design for sustainability which is RES 602 and I teach courses on ecosystem services. I have also taught on social ecological systems.

How did you get started in biology?

I've always loved critters of all kinds. When I was eight, nine, ten years old I'd be rustling around in the woods picking up spiders, other insects, and invertebrates trying to figure out how to keep them alive for a little while, so that I could keep an eye on them.

I studied all kinds of science in in my undergraduate years and then transitioned into an ecology and evolutionary biology degree at Princeton University where I did a PhD and at that time I was already deeply interested not just in life and how to understand living organisms and ecosystems but also the social aspects that intersect with those.

Why are you at UBC?

I grew up in Toronto for most of my life, but we had one year when my father who was a professor, is an emeritus professor, at the University of Toronto did a sabbatical with Michael Smith out at UBC, so I was seven years old running around under the rhododendron bushes playing tag, shooting my brother and sister with water pistols and it was just like, the best year of my life, so later in life when I was thinking about the places that I could imagine being, UBC came to the top of mind.


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