Conservation & Science

The world is taking climate action at COP23

wsi-imageoptim-cop23The ocean is about to take center stage at the United Nations’ annual climate change conference in Bonn, Germany. November 11 is officially Oceans Action Day at COP23, when leaders of government, businesses and organizations around the world turn their attention to the sea that covers more than 70% of our planet.

Speakers at the international gathering will discuss how carbon emissions from human activities are changing the world’s ocean (and not for the good)—including impacts on marine wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture, and coastal communities. They’ll also explore science-based solutions, such as ramped-up development of renewable energy and ecosystem-based adaptation to the changes already underway.

Ocean Action Day includes a program at the U.S. Climate Action Center—the largest pavilion at the climate talks. Michael Bloomberg (the former mayor of New York City and a U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change) and California Gov. Jerry Brown will release a new “America’s Pledge” report detailing what U.S. states, cities, and businesses are doing to keep the U.S. on track to meet its Paris Agreement carbon reduction goals. They will be joined by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Laura Phillips, Senior VP of Sustainability for Walmart, to discuss specific actions to meet the emission targets established under the Paris Agreement.

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Bikes lined up outside COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photo by UNClimateAction via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

The day will conclude with a signing ceremony for the “Because the Ocean Declaration,” an effort led by Chile, urging nations of the world to protect the ocean as they map paths toward implementing the breakthrough Paris Agreement—the commitment, adopted two years ago by nearly every nation in the world, to reduce our emissions of heat-trapping gases. The island nation of Fiji is also leading a collaborative effort, called the Ocean Pathway Partnership, to give the ocean the prominent place it deserves in the U.N.’s ongoing climate conversations.

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Students take the lead to fight ocean plastic pollution

Young ocean advocates in the Monterey Bay region are behind two recent efforts to reduce single-use plastic waste. One is a vision for a month without straws. The other is a ban on plastic straws and utensils in the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

If we take a cue from kids like these, the ocean’s future looks bright.

In April 2018, Carmel food businesses will no longer be permitted to offer plastic straws, cutlery, coffee lids or containers that can’t be recycled or composted. Photo courtesy Our Seas Our Future

Plastic pollution threatens the health of marine wildlife like fish, turtles and seabirds, which often become entangled in plastic trash or eat it by mistake. And the problem is growing quickly: Since people started making plastic in the 1950s, only 9 percent has been recycled, and another 12 percent has been incinerated. The rest, over 4 billion metric tons, has ended up in landfills or in the natural environment—including the ocean.

On October 3, the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea banned its restaurants and food vendors from providing plastic straws and utensils. The idea for the ban stemmed from a group of Carmel River School students, encouraged by fifth grade teacher Niccole Tiffany, who were concerned about plastic pollution in the ocean. The kids took action, attending a City Council meeting and requesting a law banning single-use plastics in the city’s restaurants. One of the students who spoke during the public comment period was Shayla Dutta, age 10.

“I stand for this ban,” she said, “because I stand for the environment.” Read more…

Science on the front lines of ocean acidification

Life seems easy for the little red tuna crabs delighting Monterey Bay Aquarium visitors. The temperature and water chemistry in their exhibit are carefully controlled and stable. In the wild, it’s a different story. Conditions are changing—fast. Crabs and other critters are in a race with time, as record levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) warm the planet and change ocean chemistry.

Our colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) are on the front line, documenting the impacts and identifying potential solutions for this serious threat to ocean health.

CO2 bubbled up slowly

For more than a century, scientists have known that burning fossil fuels warms our planet. They’ve also long been aware of another impact—this one affecting ocean chemistry.

In 1909, a brewery chemist discovered that CO2 both creates bubbles when it’s dissolved in liquid, and makes it more acidic.

In 1909, a chemist at the Carlsberg Brewery Laboratory discovered that CO2 dissolved in water not only creates tiny bubbles (like in beer). It also makes liquid more acidic. In other words, our burning of fossil fuels is changing the chemistry of the ocean, a process called ocean acidification.

The impact of rising atmospheric CO2 developed slowly and subtly. By the 1960s, however, climatologists began raising alarms. Decades later, Al Gore’s landmark book and movie, An Inconvenient Truth, framed climate change as an urgent threat to human survival. As the scientific community worked to build accurate models of climate dynamics and explore ways to deal with rampant carbon, some eyed the ocean—which absorbs 25 percent to 30 percent of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere—as a solution. Could we stash even more atmospheric carbon in the sea, sparing the planet the worst impacts of global warming? Read more…

Blood, bone and brainpower: A deep dive into sea otter DNA

Being a sea otter might sound simple: swim, snack, nap, repeat. Glorious.

Gidget is the face of the sea otter genome.

But the task before Annabel Beichman, a PhD candidate now in her fifth year at UCLA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, is monstrously complex. Annabel is investigating everything that makes up a sea otter, down to its DNA. She hopes what she learns will contribute to recovery of a species that plays a critical role in the health of coastal ecosystems.

Annabel’s effort to sequence the southern sea otter genome (which she wrote about for us last year) is tied to the Monterey Bay Aquarium by one of our exhibit otters, a 9-year-old female with a blonde, gray-streaked face, named Gidget. Through the DNA that Annabel has been laboring to sequence, assemble and annotate, Gidget will become the embodiment of the sea otter genome. And the work is nearly complete.

‘A reference point for generations’

“Gidget is going to be a reference point for future genetic studies of southern sea otters for years to come,” Annabel says. That research stands to help a species that has been listed as threatened for decades. So, she says, “Gidget’s contributing to the conservation of her entire species.” Read more…

International honors for our conservation commitment

Our 33rd year has been remarkable in many ways, and the last day of the year brought with it a humbling honor. Monterey Bay Aquarium was saluted by colleagues with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), for the depth and scientific rigor of our work to safeguard the health of the ocean.

“This is quite an anniversary present!” Cynthia Vernon told WAZA delegates as she accepted the Conservation Award on behalf of Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“This is quite an anniversary present!” Aquarium Chief Operating Officer Cynthia Vernon told WAZA delegates gathered in Berlin, Germany as she accepted the second-ever Conservation Award presented by the WAZA, an association of 300 member zoos and aquariums from six continents.

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The world unites to protect Our Ocean

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Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Our Ocean conference. ©European Union, 2017

Each year, global leaders gather at the Our Ocean conference, pledging meaningful actions to protect the health of the global ocean. This year, on the Mediterranean island of Malta, Monterey Bay Aquarium was at the heart of several key initiatives addressing fisheries, aquaculture and ocean plastic pollution.

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who launched the event in 2014, announced a new partnership between the Aquarium and the Carnegie Endowment for International PeaceThrough the Southeast Asia Fisheries and Aquaculture Initiative, we’ll work with regional governments and seafood producers in Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines to overcome obstacles to sustainable seafood production.

“Sustainable fishing is good for jobs and good for the environment at the same time,” Kerry said. “It’s not a competition between the two.”

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Reeling in a major cause of whale entanglement

Calder Deyerle is on a conference call. But while other participants sit in office chairs, Deyerle is miles out at sea on his 28-foot boat. Freshly caught fish, in a bucket at his feet, are flopping loudly enough to be heard on the call.

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Fisherman Calder Deyerle fishes for rockfish off the Big Sur coast. Photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium/Presley Adamson

During crab season, Deyerle says, he works what feels like 24 hours a day—going home only to shower, eat and see his family. Even when he watches TV, he keeps his hands busy mending gear. Serving on the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, which led to the conference call, is what he calls one of his “extracurricular activities.”

But it serves a practical purpose: preserving a fishery, and a way of life, that’s been in his family for generations. And it’s helping protect one of the ocean’s most magnificent animals, too.

A migration menace

In recent years, crabbing gear has entangled whales, mostly humpbacks, with alarming frequency. In 2016 there were 71 reported entanglements along the U.S. West Coast—the most since the federal government began keeping records in ’82. Twenty-two of those were confirmed to be related to the Dungeness crab fishery.
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