Sea Otter Recovery Fund

Sea Otter Recovery Grants 2021

The California State Coastal Conservancy (Conservancy) announces the availability of grants to public agencies, tribes and nonprofit organizations for projects that facilitate the recovery of the southern sea otter along California’s coasts.

The California Sea Otter Fund is one of the state’s voluntary tax check-off funds that allows taxpayers to voluntarily contribute additional money for use towards the recovery of California’s sea otter population. Approximately 50% of the revenues are allocated to the Coastal Conservancy for “competitive grants and contracts to public agencies and nonprofit organizations for research, science, protection, projects, or programs related to the Federal Sea Otter Recovery Plan or improving the nearshore ocean ecosystem.”

Coastal Conservancy grants funded by the California Sea Otter Fund can be used for a variety of activities related to southern sea otter recovery and improving the nearshore ecosystem. Conservancy priorities for the funding are as follows:

  • Plan and implement projects to improve or expand southern sea otter habitat
  • Reduce environmental stressors impacting southern sea otters
  • Implement critical recovery actions of the Federal Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan
  • Research that will inform actions or strategies to advance critical sea otter recovery actions, improve or expand sea otter habitat, or reduce stressors on southern sea otters

Each year, the Conservancy solicits proposals for the annual appropriation from the California Sea Otter Fund. This year the Conservancy has approximately $250,000 available for projects that meeting the fund’s objectives.

Grant applications must be received by September 1, 2021.

The full solicitation can be found here (automatic download of Word file). 


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 2006-2019, Californians have donated $3,919,172 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 2019 approximately 2,962 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 $1,527,667 between 2008-2019 (which was matched $1,314,683) 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.

A summary of all projects is available here: Sea Otter Recovery Program Summary

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


The Conservancy solicits grant applications for the Sea Otter Recovery Fund in an annual grant round. The next grant round is expected to occur in Summer 2021.  Please check back on this webpage for the application and contact Hilary Hill at hilary.hill (at) with any questions.


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


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