(Photo by Kim Steinhardt)
SANTA CRUZ — Kim Steinhardt loves sea otters. For anyone who grew up on the Northern California coast, this declaration might not be that surprising — but Steinhardt is pretty certain most don’t reach his level of fixation.
“I’ve spent quite a lot of time photographing otters,” Steinhardt laughed. “And I mean a lot. Probably more than people think I could.”
The California sea otter was once assumed extinct after they were hunted down during the fur trade in the 1700s and 1800s. In the late 1930s, a small population of a few hundred otters were discovered near Big Sur. Today, there are just over 3,000 in the area.
The return of the otter is, in Steinhardt’s opinion, one of the greatest true stories of how wildlife conservation can succeed--despite the fact they remain threatened, with their numbers dropping slightly in the past year.
“They’ve almost become like a poster child of what can happen when a species is protected,” he said. “It shows what people can accomplish when they take action.”
Steinhardt is a former administrative law judge turned wildlife writer, photographer and teacher. Now living in Santa Cruz County, Steinhardt grew up “literally on the edge of San Francisco Bay.” His parents were instrumental in helping save a section of the bay in North San Francisco from a major proposed development in the 1950s.
He credited his upbringing in shaping who and what he is doing today.
Steinhardt and longtime UCSC professor Gary Griggs released their book entitled “The Edge: The Pressured Past and Precarious Future of California’s Coast” in October. The book has already garnered praise from a number of ocean advocacy organizations and literary critics.
Griggs, who grew up in Southern California, met Steinhardt one day on a beach walk led by Griggs and Sandy Lydon in Santa Cruz. They struck up a conversation, became friends and eventually began talking about writing a book together.
“We realized just how similar the influence of living on the coast was to us,” Steinhardt said. “Things kept growing from there.”
“The Edge” touches upon everything from wildlife protection to land erosion, discussing the natural history and possible future of California’s coast. Personal stories are woven throughout, adding a connection Steinhardt believes will particularly be appealing to those who’ve lived on the coast and experienced firsthand the ever-changing ecosystem.
According to Steinhardt, writing “The Edge” became a real adventure in collaboration, with his and Griggs’ unique perspectives and ideas overlapping constantly. It also happened rather fast.
“I felt like the wind was at our back,” Steinhardt said. “After organizing everything, we were able to write the book in just about a year. One part just flowed into another.”
Since October both authors have given a number of talks all over California, even stopping by Kelly’s Books in Watsonville early on. March 14, Steinhardt plans to give a presentation at Watsonville Wetlands Watch. A few days later he will lead a lecture/field trip class through Cabrillo College’s Extension program.
In addition to “The Edge,” Steinhardt is also working on a story for younger readers with National Geographic, which will follow a sea otter mother and pup as they navigate a dangerous encounter in Moss Landing.
Steinhart believes that writing a book is a good way to talk about important issues while keeping things personal. He hopes his and Griggs’ work will reach readers of all ages and influence them to take action.
“Conservation is a real challenge,” he said. “It only really works when it’s backed by good science, education, citizen involvement and of course, plenty of passion.”
“The Edge” is available at Kelly’s Books and Bookshop Santa Cruz, as well as online at Barnes and Noble.com.