Conservation & Science

Food for thought: Exploring sustainable solutions

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M. Sanjayan kicks off the Sustainable Foods Institute with a riveting keynote.

When the first groups of early humans stood up and foraged on the plains of East Africa, they solved their food shortages by walking somewhere new. In other words, Dr. M. Sanjayan said, “Humans were never sustainable in one place.”

Sanjayan, a scientist and member of Conservation International’s senior leadership team—whom you may have seen on nature shows like Big Blue Live and Earth: A New Wild—proposed this concept in a keynote address that kicked off the Aquarium’s 11th annual Sustainable Foods Institute in Monterey.

Within a few days’ walk, Sanjayan said, our early ancestors were able to find new, unexploited resources, which they would deplete over time, then migrate again.

Today,  our planet has 7 billion human mouths to feed. And nearly every inch of inhabitable land is already spoken for. “To achieve sustainability, we have to innovate,” Sanjayan said. “And we only have a couple of generations to pull it off.”

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Our surrogate-raised sea otters are helping restore a wetland

Otter 501 meanders through the tidal creeks near Yampah Island in Elkhorn Slough with a dozing pup on her chest. She massages the pup’s rump and blows air into its fur as she makes her way toward a main channel to feed.

To an observer, 501 might look like any other sea otter going about her business. But she’s thriving in the wild today because of a rather remarkable program at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

According to surprising new research, the same can be said of the majority of Elkhorn Slough’s otters.

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Julie Packard: A bold vision for ocean health

Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard, who also sits on the board of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, offered a powerful vision of hope for the future of the ocean Friday morning at the third Our Ocean Conference convened by Secretary of State John Kerry  in Washington, D.C.

Julie Packard at Our Ocean 2016
Julie Packard at Our Ocean 2016

Julie shared the stage with other leading ocean philanthropists as she announced the Packard Foundation’s five-year, $550 million commitment to advance ocean science, protection and effective management. She held up Monterey Bay as an example of the transformation that’s possible in ocean health with an investment of time and energy to shape a thriving future for this vital living system.

For all their success in driving environmental improvements on land, foundations and philanthropists “over time we realized something was missing—the ‘other’ three-quarters of the planet, 99% of living space on Earth and the most prominent feature on this planet: the ocean,” Julie said.

Lunge-feeding humpback whales in Monterey Bay. Photo by Tyson Rininger
Lunge-feeding humpback whales in Monterey Bay. Photo by Tyson Rininger

Monterey Bay demonstrates—in dramatic fashion—what’s possible, she said. Its whales, sea otters and elephant seals were hunted to near-extinction, and the sardines that put Cannery Row on the map disappeared in “one of history’s most famous tales of fishery collapse.”

The wildlife is back, the bay’s ecosystems are robust, “Monterey Bay is now one of most studied pieces of ocean on the planet and California continues to be an incubator for ocean and climate solutions,” Julie said.

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A global spotlight on sustainable seafood

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Jennifer Kemmerly addresses the Our Ocean Conference on Sept. 15, 2016.

Today and tomorrow, Secretary of State John Kerry—a true ocean champion—will host the third annual Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C. He has invited leaders from around the globe, representing government, industry, nonprofit organizations and emerging young voices, to gather at the U.S. State Department for this significant ocean conservation event.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s own Jennifer Kemmerly, our director of global fisheries and aquaculture, joined Secretary Kerry on the world stage  to spotlight our leadership in the global sustainable seafood movement.

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A landmark year for California’s climate leadership

It’s an uncertain time for our ocean.

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The impacts of climate change aren’t always apparent on California’s scenic coastline. Photo by Robert Schwemmer, CINMS, NOAA

Sea levels are rising. Storms are intensifying. Seawater is becoming more acidic, and large areas of the ocean are losing oxygen. The global “conveyor belt” of ocean currents may be slowing, and many marine species are moving toward the poles.

These changes—caused by the heat-trapping gases we emit by burning fossil fuels—are destabilizing the ocean food web and threatening the long-term health of coastal communities.

But the ocean is resilient, and it can recover if we act quickly. At Monterey Bay Aquarium, we’ve made climate change and ocean acidification a priority. Our policy team encourages government action to reduce emissions and adapt to the changes already in motion.

This year, California’s leaders have made significant progress. During the 2016 legislative session, the Aquarium supported three successful state bills addressing climate change and ocean acidification. Here’s the lowdown:
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Building bridges across an ocean to save a species

From a human perspective, the ocean is mind-bogglingly vast, deep and mysterious. Many of us live along the coast, or visit it on vacation, but few have experienced the high seas. We may not think much about marine life until it’s on our plates.

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Chef Ed Kenney

But this week Ed Kenney, a Hawaii-based celebrity chef and a member of the Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, called on people to rethink our appetite for one particular fish: Pacific bluefin tuna. These huge, fast predators, which migrate thousands of miles across the Earth’s largest ocean, are now down to less than 3 percent of their historical abundance due to overfishing.

“We chefs must take Pacific bluefin off our menus now, and give these powerful fish a chance to rebound,” Kenney writes on the National Geographic Ocean Views blog.

The Aquarium shares his concerns. For years, our scientists have been working to unravel the mysteries of the fish itself, by studying live bluefin in the lab, keeping them in our Open Sea exhibit, and tracking them in the wild.

We’ve learned a lot about the movement of Pacific bluefin by tagging more than 1,400 fish off the coast of California. But, mysteriously, not one of these individuals has made it back across the Pacific to spawn in the Sea of Japan.

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Sampling the snowy plover song

A snowy plover with a broken wing cheeped to her chicks at Monterey Bay Aquarium’s wild bird rehabilitation facility.

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A Western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus) with summer plumage in the Aviary exhibit.

The tiny bird’s high-pitched, staccato trills gave Aimee Greenebaum, the Aquarium’s curator of aviculture, an idea. That night, her colleagues tiptoed into the plover’s room with a microphone and recorded her peeps.

“It was a total whim,” Aimee says.

Ten years later, her team is still playing those plover-mama calls from a boom box—to coax eggs into hatching, and to soothe orphaned chicks.

The Aquarium is a rehabilitation site for the Western snowy plover, a shorebird listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

During breeding season, Aimee’s team works with local parks and conservation groups to rescue and release injured snowy plovers and abandoned chicks. The collaboration has helped grow a healthy breeding population in Monterey Bay.

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