Conservation & Science

Celebrating California’s global conservation leadership

March 14 was more than Pi Day. In Sacramento, it was also Ocean Day California. And while pi—the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter—is delightfully infinite, we know that the ocean’s resources are not.

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Julie Packard addresses attendees of the 2017 Ocean Day California reception in Sacramento.

That’s why hundreds of advocates and educators came together in the state’s capital to celebrate ocean and coastal health. Through meetings with legislators, staff and colleagues, they worked to raise awareness of the critical role our ocean plays in sustaining life on Earth.

In the evening, for the eighth year, Monterey Bay Aquarium hosted a reception for almost 250 state legislators, government officials and ocean leaders—people dedicated to conserving the health and vitality of our state’s blue treasures.

Our guests enjoyed dishes featuring California seafood rated “Best Choice” by the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. (Check out our Seafood Watch blog for more on the incredible dishes, from rainbow trout sushi to house-smoked sablefish—and the people who produced and prepared them.)

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Thai coconut curry trout at the Ocean Day reception. Every seafood item served was a California-sourced Seafood Watch “Best Choice.”

Julie Packard, our executive director, thanked the attending officials and advocates for helping make California both an environmental leader and an economic powerhouse.

“We have one of the world’s most incredible natural coastlines, thriving coastal communities and a rich diversity of marine wildlife because of the work of the people in this room,” she said.

“Our commitment to conservation should be stronger than ever. We support California leaders in their commitment to both safeguard what we’ve accomplished to date, and at the same time, forge ahead on the conservation policy, management and investment California is known for across the globe.”

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Sustainable local fisheries: the triple bottom line

For as long as humans have lived along Monterey Bay, they’ve found sustenance in the sea. Beginning with the native Ohlone people, and persisting through the arrival of immigrants from the 18th century onward, fishing has always been at the heart of Monterey Bay’s regional identity.

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Monterey harbor. Photo by Melissa Mahoney

“Many immigrants, upon first arrival, went immediately to the shore and began to try and figure out how to make a living from the bay’s bounty,” says Sandy Lydon, emeritus historian at Cabrillo College.

But today, most of the fish sold on Monterey’s own wharves is imported. Paradoxically, the fish caught and landed in Monterey Bay is largely sold for export.

Fisheries in Monterey Bay, as in much of the U.S., are finally sustainable from an environmental standpoint. But in order to preserve our region’s fishing heritage, we need to make it economically worthwhile, too.

At the Aquarium, we want to help keep sustainable fishing in Monterey Bay by demonstrating what we call the triple bottom line: sustainable fisheries, healthy ocean ecosystems and a thriving local economy.

Getting there, however, is a challenge.

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Julie Packard: It’s time to invest in the ocean

Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard is a member of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a bipartisan organization of ocean leaders that makes policy recommendations to support continued U.S. leadership in protection of ocean resources. She offers her thoughts on the Initiative’s 2017 Ocean Action Agenda, which was released on March 7.

Executive Director Julie Packard (Photo © Corey Arnold)

The health of Earth’s vast ocean system will determine the future prosperity of the human species—and our very survival. Today it’s more urgent than ever for us to invest in the living ocean. That’s why the Aquarium has made it a priority to advance policies here and abroad that will protect critical ocean resources.

Through Seafood Watch and other initiatives, we’re a global leader in the sustainable seafood movement. We’re working with the U.S. government to end illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, and to provide more transparency in global supply chains to assure that seafood comes from well-managed sources.

We’re bringing sound science to international forums that address big challenges like climate change and ocean acidification. We’re advocating for action on many fronts to advance ocean health and to ensure that the world community manages our ocean in ways that preserve its productivity, now and into the future.

Clouds of reef fish thrive amid healthy corals in the protected waters of French Frigate Shoals, in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The good news is: In the United States, we have a solid record of progress and, now, an updated roadmap for the future. The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative on which I serve—a bipartisan group of senior ocean leaders from industry, academia and civil society, as well as former senior government officials—has just released its 2017 Ocean Action Agenda, with priorities based on practical experience and success stories. Read more…

An ocean time machine

The ocean keeps scrupulous records of its past: The comings and goings of myriad creatures, the evolving conditions they lived in, even details of who ate what.

“The ocean has a memory. We just have to tap into it,” says Kyle Van Houtan, the Aquarium’s science director.

Turkish towel red algae are common along the Pacific coast. Illustration courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Turkish towel red algae are common along the Pacific coast. Illustration courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Consider the secrets we might glean from studying a single blade of algae – commonly known as seaweed. During the year or two it was alive, were the surrounding waters pleasantly cool, or unusually acidic? What plants were its neighbors? And what was the world around it like?

With the help of modern technology, historical specimens can now answer some of these questions. And in the world of ocean science, the details amount to hidden treasure.

Like antiques that startle and thrill their owners, proving to be worth small fortunes, pressed seaweeds can yield surprisingly valuable data. Museums and herbariums hold collections of these souvenirs from the ocean, often dating back decades – and too often left unnoticed in deep storage.

Kyle lucked into one such trove when he started work at the Aquarium last year.

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A last-ditch effort to save the vaquita

Spotting a vaquita in the northern Gulf of California is a bit like glimpsing a snow leopard in the Himalayas. Some local fishermen told a reporter they’ve never seen a vaquita—and doubt they even exist.

One day soon, they might be right. But not if a coalition of experts, working with the Mexican government, can help it.

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Vaquita observers use binoculars capable of spotting vaquitas almost 2 miles away. Photo by NOAA Fisheries/Barbara Taylor

Barbara Taylor is one of the few people who’s seen a vaquita—hundreds of them, she says, in her 20 years doing population surveys. As a conservation biologist and a long-time member of the vaquita recovery team, Barbara has the training, and the powerful binoculars, to locate the small porpoises.

When vaquitas surface to breathe, they do it subtly and disappear quickly; and they tend to keep their distance from boats. “They are almost impossible to see from a little panga on the water,” she says.

But there’s another reason few people have encountered vaquitas: They’re the most highly endangered marine mammal species on Earth. These shy, small porpoises were only discovered in the 1950s. The population dropped from an estimated 567, when Barbara’s team first surveyed them in the late 1990s, to fewer than 60 last year. (UPDATE: According to a report published Feb. 1, the population is now estimated at only 30 individuals.)

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A year of hope for the global ocean

Say what you will about 2016—the world made some big waves to protect the ocean. As the sun sets on this year, let’s reflect on its brightest marine moments:

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The Aquarium and our partners campaigned across the state for Prop 67.

California votes to ban single-use plastic bags

November brought a big ballot win for ocean health. Thanks to voters, California now has the nation’s first law banning single-use plastic carryout bags statewide.

Working with our partners, the Aquarium campaigned in support of Proposition 67, the California ballot measure to uphold the statewide bag ban. We also urged a NO vote on the deceptive Proposition 65, which could have further delayed the ban’s implementation.

Voters agreed, approving Proposition 67 and rejecting Proposition 65. And just like that, single-use plastic carryout bags are now a thing of California’s past. The new law could prevent billions of plastic bags from polluting our ocean each year—which means a cleaner future for marine wildlife and coastal communities.

Read more…

Our best Conservation & Science stories of 2016

It’s been an exciting year for ocean conservation at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

We’ve shared how our care for the animals in our living collections—including snowy ploverscomb jellies, ocean sunfish and Pacific seahorses—contibutes to the conservation of their wild kin.

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The Aquarium helps rehabilitate threatened Western snowy plovers.

We’ve visited the Canadian cousins of Monterey Bay’s sea otters, explored how sea otters use tools, and assisted scientists working to decode the sea otter genome.

We’ve collaborated with our colleagues in Baja, Mexico on a number of conservation missions—one of them involving ancient shark mummies. And we joined forces with U.S. aquariums and zoos to call for stronger protections for the endangered vaquita porpoises of the Gulf of California.

As 2016 comes to a close, let’s look back at the top 10 highlights from this blog:

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A white shark approaches schooling sardines.

10. Camera to Crack a White Shark MysteryOur senior reseach scientist teamed up with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute for a high-tech mission: to capture video footage of great white sharks in their most mysterious habitat.

“Some of the engineering team said it was an impossible job,” MBARI Engineer Thom Maughan recalled. “But I’m attracted to those opportunities.”

Read more…

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