River otters are charismatic animals. Not only filled with curiosity and playfulness, they also act in an important role as an apex predator in riparian ecosystems. Their need for abundant and diverse prey requires an overall healthy habitat and transforms this key species into sentinels of the health of the watersheds where they live. When humans track the health of river otter populations we learn a great deal about the health of our own environment as well.
The river otter is just one of many animals and plants that are canaries in an aquatic coal mine. Their presence or absence speaks volumes about the health of a watershed. Species that provide such insights to the workings of an ecosystem are called indicator species. Here on the coast of Oregon, indicator species provide invaluable information about the interconnectedness of our forests and ocean – a connection that can often be difficult to see, just like the species themselves.
Through visual stories of species dependent on connected, healthy and functioning watersheds, Watershed Sentinels highlights the importance of our connection to our local environment.