Conservation & Science

Making strides for ocean health at the Our Ocean Conference

For nearly 20 years, Monterey Bay Aquarium has worked to shift global seafood production in more sustainable directions—because fishing and aquaculture, done the wrong way, can do great harm to the ocean and ocean wildlife. What started as the Aquarium’s consumer-focused Seafood Watch program has blossomed to engage major seafood buyers, producers and governments in seafood-producing countries around the world.

More recently, the Aquarium has stepped up to address another growing threat to ocean health: a tide of plastic pollution.

Our Ocean BaliThe global impact of our work on both fronts took several steps forward this week at the international Our Ocean Conference in Bali, Indonesia—in ways that will be felt in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Since the inaugural conference in 2014, Our Ocean has brought government officials, business leaders and NGOs together to make measurable commitments that will improve ocean health. This year, the Aquarium is a part of four commitments: two to make our global seafood supply more sustainable, and two to reduce the use of ocean-polluting plastic.

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Transforming science teaching through technology

Katy Scott, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s digital learning manager, sits in a small office just across Cannery Row from the Aquarium. The cramped space looks like a school classroom crossed with a NASA operations center. There are a dozen pairs of virtual reality goggles lying about, and 10 padded cases containing 18 iPads each. A snaking nest of charge cords comes out of the wall, attached to a host of other devices. Laptops whir and burst with color and animation.

Though Katy Noelle Scott is digital technology manager for the Aquarium’s education team, she infuses her work with a deep connection to the natural world–and a spirit of fun.

It’s a pretty geeky place.

There’s hardly room for a desk, but that’s okay—Katy’s not there much, anyway. She’s in the field, working with teachers and students, holding forth on the value of technology in science education and how it can be used to promote the Aquarium’s mission of inspiring conservation of the ocean.

The Aquarium’s digital learning initiatives reach hundreds of schools, teachers and more than 80,000 students every year, from the Bay Area to the Central Valley. In fact, Katy emphasizes that there is no separate “digital learning program” per se. Quite simply, it’s an approach that permeates everything the Aquarium does in the field of education.

The Aquarium incorporates technology to help students build skills that will prepare them for success in an emerging economy.

And, with next year’s opening of the Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership, it will play an increasingly important role complementing the inspirational power of the Aquarium’s live-animal experiences. Read more…

A surge of ocean action in Sacramento

The 2018 California legislative session brought great news for the ocean! The Aquarium supported seven bills and two resolutions this year—and they all became state law.

These new state policies will:

  • Protect our coast from federal offshore oil and gas drilling
  • Restrict several common single-use plastic products that pollute the ocean
  • Continue to conserve California’s marine protected areas, and
  • Encourage new, more sustainable fisheries practices

Here’s a bill-by-bill breakdown.

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Julie Packard: It’s time for courageous climate action

It’s not easy to find good news  when talking about climate change. The latest scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change spells out in no uncertain terms the magnitude of the challenges we face—and the urgency of action.

Executive Director Julie Packard welcomed delegates to the ocean plenary at the Global Climate Action Summit.

It’s true that global scale climate trends continue to be daunting. But the pace of solutions is accelerating. So, in that way I’m among the optimists (along with the newest Nobel laureate in economics). As a global society, we know we must do to get on a sustainable course. We’re making progress faster than ever, and we have more tools to do the job. Many of these tools were created in Silicon Valley, and in other hubs of innovation around the world, from Redmond, Washington to Mumbai, India.

Last month, I left the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco feeling energized. Monterey Bay Aquarium played a key role in putting the ocean on the Summit agenda, and it was clear people finally recognize that a healthy ocean is critical to avoiding catastrophic climate change. The question now is: Do we have the will to make it happen?

California and the West Coast are leading the way to a clean-energy future. Photo by BLM / Tom Brewster Photography

Judging by the progress being made on the U.S. West Coast, and the business and government commitments announced at the Summit, I think the answer is yes. That’s especially apparent here on California’s central coast. Our region has become the global nexus for ocean education, innovation and impact. Read more…

Julie Packard: Honoring Bill Gates for his work to protect our planet, improve the human condition

The David Packard Award honors business leaders who work to make the planet more sustainable.

Since 2014, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has periodically honored leaders whose activities and achievements embody the qualities of thought and action that my father, David Packard, held dear. These individuals have effectively worked to make the future of our planet surer and more sustainable.

This year, we recognized visionary Microsoft co-founder and philanthropic innovator Bill Gates. Bill has done so much to improve the human condition—by harnessing technology to advance social good, and by launching bold philanthropic initiatives to make lives better around the world and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy, productive life.

We honored Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates for his work, as a business leader and a philanthropist, to improve the human condition.

We paid tribute to the scope and the focus of Bill’s thinking and his commitment to using science and technology to improve the future for the people on our planet. It’s a conviction he shares with my father. Because of the extraordinary success of Microsoft, the Gates Foundation has had the resources to tackle some of the largest problems confronting the world, and Bill and Melinda’s vision and strategic approach are yielding extraordinary results.

Our 300 guests at the award dinner—representing Silicon Valley’s most iconic technology company leaders, along with global ocean conservationists and philanthropists—heard from Bill and our award dinner chair, Meg Whitman, during an engaging “fireside chat”. They covered topics from the role technology can play in environmental conservation, to new approaches philanthropy can bring to pressing global challenges, and the importance of optimism. Read more…

Champion of a plastic-free ocean earns Paul Walker Youth Award

We’ve proudly shared the story of Shelby O’Neil, a Teen Conservation Leader at the Monterey Bay Aquarium who’s been making a huge different in the campaign to reduce ocean plastic pollution.

Shelby O’Neil receives the Paul Walker Youth Award from Brandon Birtell of the Paul Walker Foundation and Aquarium Chief Operating Officer Cynthia Vernon.

She’s been recognized many times for her work, including as a guest speaker at Dreamforce and at Ocean Heroes panel during the Global Climate Action Summit. She’s one of the first class of Ocean Heroes recognized by the Aquarium, and earned a Girl Scout Gold Award for her work to raise awareness about the problem of single-use plastic – notably plastic straws.

Now 17 and a senior at San Benito High School, she’s the 2018 recipient of the Paul Walker Youth Award, presented to young people who share the late actor’s love of the ocean and his commitment to take an active role in safeguarding ocean health. Through the Paul Walker Foundation created by Paul’s daughter Meadow, Shelby will receive a college scholarship to support her studies, so she can contribute in new ways to ocean and conservation initiatives.

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Diving into sea otter recovery in Alaska’s Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska is home to more than twice as many northern sea otters (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) as all of California is to southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis). Studying the thriving northern species may hold important clues for the future of the recovering southern species. In August, Monterey Bay Aquarium researcher Jessica Fujii spent two weeks studying the Glacier Bay population in the wild.

When she’s not studying sea otters in Alaska during the summer, Jessica Fujii observes otter behavior around Monterey Bay. Photo by Michelle Staedler

Jess is a senior research biologist with the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program. She studies both wild sea otters and pups raised by surrogate otters so they can be returned to the wild—as was the case with two juvenile males earlier this month.

“Mostly I’m looking at sea otter behavior and foraging ecology—what they’re eating and what that may tell us about the rest of the ecosystem,” Jess says. “It involves a lot of going out in the field and watching the otters from shore.”

This summer, she worked aboard the Alaskan Gyre, a 50-foot U.S. Geological Survey vessel.

“It looks like a fishing boat, but it’s been converted for research purposes,” she says. “What used to be the fish hold is now sleeping quarters and storage.” With six or seven others aboard, “it was cozy; there’s not a lot of extra space.”

The converted fishing boat Alaska Gyre was home base for scientists working in Glacier Bay.

The trip was part of a longstanding collaboration between the Aquarium and researchers with the USGS Alaska Science Center. The two groups sometimes share insights and help each other observe or capture sea otters: “Having that crossover can be really helpful,” Jess says. “It’s also a way to make sure we’re maintaining comparable methods.”

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