Sea otters once ranged along the west coast of America from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to Baja California in Mexico. Because of the value of their fur, humans hunted them to near extinction, leaving behind just a few isolated populations. In the absence of sea otters, the ecology of these regions changed. Urchins, the sea otters’ natural prey, reproduced rapidly, eventually supporting a thriving urchin fishing industry.

In 1982, a plan was crafted to relocate sea otters in an attempt to recover their populations. To protect the fishermen’s interests, a “no otter zone” was set up from Point Conception, California, to the Mexican border. Organizers intended to insert otters near San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands. Yet some otters moved into the “no otter zone.” Soon after, urchin fishermen and environmental groups seeking to conserve otter populations began to clash.

No Otter Zone features biologists, environmentalists, and fishermen presenting their different perspectives. The film allows the expression of varied opinions and contains none of the obvious bias sometimes found in nature documentaries. The program is filled with striking undersea photography of the urchins, otters, and other marine organisms, as well as appealing footage of otters swimming, playing, and feeding underwater.

This 16-minute DVD offers no solutions. For this reason, it is a perfect program to stimulate classroom discussion – a springboard for further research on issues that emerge when environmental concerns clash with people’s rights. After watching the short-film, teachers may want to lead student discussions using a variety of questions: Do organisms have the right to live in their natural environments with no interference from humans? Do fishermen have a right to make a living without the interference of competing animal species? If fishermen remove too many of a particular organism, how will this affect the populations of other species? To what extent, if any, should governments regulate these types of situations? Other questions could be formulated to take advantage of concerns involving similar issues in the geographic area where students reside. The bottom line would be the issue of whether there can be a real balance between the ecology and economy of a region.

REMY DOU taught high school life science for eight years before becoming an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow (2011–2013). Currently, he works as a Graduate Assistant at Florida International University where he contributes to STEM education research.