Sea Otter Recovery Fund

The California Sea Otter Fund was established in 2006 to allow taxpayers to donate to help the recovery of California sea otter populations.  The voluntary income-tax check-off program provides essential funding to protect and restore healthy sea otter populations. Since 2006-2017, Californians have donated $3,288,556 to help sea otters.  Thank you!

Photo: Robert Shea

“The voluntary contributions Californians make at tax time are incredibly helpful in efforts to save the cherished California Sea Otters. The money raised through tax donations helps pay for essential research and recovery efforts to assure the conservation and survival of this extraordinary resident of our central coast.”

– Sam Schuchat, executive officer of the State Coastal Conservancy.

Photo: Ron Eby

Once found along the entire coast, southern sea otters were thought to be extinct after the fur trade of the 18th and 19th century decimated their population, until around 50 otters were discovered off the coast of Big Sur in 1938.  The sea otter population has slowly been recovering and as of 2017 approximately 3,186 otters inhabit coastal waters from Pt. Conception in the south to San Mateo County in the north. This small population is still a fraction of its original population size of around 16,000-20,000 otters and is vulnerable to oil spills, environmental pollution from road and agricultural run-off, parasites, predation by sharks, and other threats.

Through Californian’s generous support of the Sea Otter Fund, the Conservancy has been able to award a total of $1,244,667 between 2008-2017 (which was matched $1,554,333) to help scientists better understand and trace the causes of sea otter mortality, identify factors limiting population growth, reduce water pollutants that are toxic to otters, develop wetland management and restoration guidance to aid in otter recovery, and educate the public how they can prevent disturbance of wild otters. The Coastal Conservancy works with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and many others to improve the health of California sea otters.


Photo: Martin Cathrae

Examples of projects the Coastal Conservancy has supported thanks to the California Sea Otter Fund are:

⋅ Be Sea Otter Savvy Program: This program engages and educates kayakers and other wildlife viewers how to properly view wild sea otters to reduce disturbance, stress, and pup abandonment of sea otters.

⋅ Pinto Lake Carp Removal: The City of Watsonville removed carp, a non-native fish species, that when feeding would disturb sediments at the bottom of the lake, causing toxic algal blooms to form.   At least 31 sea otters deaths in Monterey Bay were linked to these toxins, and Pinto Lake was identified as a likely source.

Photo: Randy Wilder/Monterey Bay Aquarium

⋅ Investigating Sea Otter Mortality Patterns: Researchers from UC Davis and California Department of Fish and Wildlife analyzed deceased otters over 15 years to determine cause of death and help understand where, when, and from what sea otters died from and to help inform recovery efforts.

⋅ Investigation Sea Otter Use of Elkhorn Slough to Inform Restoration: Over the past decade, sea otter use of Elkhorn Slough has increased dramatically and researchers from UC Santa Cruz are studying prey and habitat use of these otters to help inform habitat restoration and the potential for otters to inhabit other estuaries in California.


You can help by making a donation to the California Sea Otter Fund on line 410, in the Voluntary Contributions section of your California Income Tax Form. If you itemize deductions, that donation will be tax deductible the following year. Remember to tell your tax preparer you want to make these contributions. To learn more about donating to the California Sea Otter Fund during tax time, click here:

Thank you for your support!

Photo: Ingrid Taylar

To see a detailed list of grants funded in this program, click here.

To learn more about Sea Otter Recovery managed by US Fish and Wildlife, click here:

To apply for the 2019 grant round for the Sea Otter Recovery Fund, click here:

Grant News

  • California Sea Otter Fund: Grant Applications Due September 7, 2018
    The State Coastal Conservancy is now accepting applications for its 2019 Sea Otter Recovery Grants. The grants will be funded with monies from the California Sea Otter Fund, which is one of the state’s voluntary tax check-off funds that allows taxpayers to contribute additional money for use towards the recovery of California sea otter populations. […] (Read more on California Sea Otter...)
  • Climate Ready Grants available, applications due July 2nd
    The Conservancy announces a new Climate Ready grant solicitation; applications are due July 2, 2018. Climate Ready grants fund nature-based solutions for climate adaptation. Projects in this round will be funded by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, and must facilitate greenhouse gas emission reductions. These grants seek to support projects located in and benefiting disadvantaged communities. The […] (Read more on Climate Ready Grants...)
  • Coastal Conservancy Prop 1 Grant Solicitation
    The Conservancy announces a new Proposition 1 Grant Solicitation, applications are due June 8, 2018.  Conservancy Proposition 1 grants fund multi-benefit ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration projects. Priority project types include: water sustainability improvements, anadromous fish habitat enhancement, wetland restoration and urban greening. The solicitation document and application materials are posted here. (Read more on Coastal Conservancy Prop...)
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