Conservation & Science

Using archaeology to uncover sea otters’ historical habitats

When a hungry sea otter uses a rock to crack open a tasty mussel, it’s doing something unique among marine mammals: using a stone tool. Researchers are now revealing how this behavior makes it possible to study sea otters’ past through the lens of archaeology.

A sea otter cracks open a mussel shell using a shoreline “anvil rock”.

Sea otters use large stationary stones like anvils, to smash open mussel shells. Their hammering leaves distinctive marks on the rock. An ideal place to document this behavior is just a short drive up the coast from the Aquarium, near Elkhorn Slough.

It’s an area that Monterey Bay Aquarium researchers like Jessica Fujii have monitored for years. Southern sea otters are a threatened species, and many of the orphaned pups reared by the Aquarium’s one-of-a-kind surrogacy program end up joining the wild population in Moss Landing Harbor. Years of data on sea otter foraging gathered by Aquarium researchers showed otters like to dine near the Bennett Slough culverts at the north end of the harbor.

“We have observations spanning about ten years in this location, both on wild animals that have no tags, and also sea otters that were raised at the Aquarium and successfully transitioned to the wild,” says Jessica, who has also monitored wild sea otters (while avoiding brown bears) in Alaska. Read more…

Leading the way in sustainable hospitality

The Monterey Bay Aquarium isn’t alone in its drive to inspire conservation and host visitors sustainably. Thanks to steps by the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau and others, the region is increasingly positioning itself as a leader in sustainable hospitality—and earning recognition for its commitment.

For visitors and local businesses, following sustainable practices has become a defining characteristic of Monterey County.

Building on the area’s unique advantages, like having the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in its backyard, the Aquarium is leveraging results far beyond its doors, says Public Affairs Director Barbara Meister.

“The Aquarium is well-known and recognized, so to the extent that we can help with messaging or bring other partners along—whether hotels that are reducing plastic use or restaurants that are serving Seafood Watch-approved species—all that bodes well for our mission,” Barbara says.

Local fisherman Jerry Wetle brings sustainably caught sablefish to area restaurants by working with the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust.

The multifaceted push marks the latest chapter in the area’s long history of working to protect its environmental assets, she says. In recent years, communities around Monterey Bay have opted to draw only renewable energy from the electric power grid, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust is helping fishing crews connect with regional restaurants to serve locally caught seafood.

International recognition

Last year, Monterey County became internationally ranked on the Global Destination Sustainability Index, which will help track its progress going forward. (Only three U.S. destinations have qualified, and Monterey County is the greenest of the three.)

The CVB has also partnered with Positive Impact, a global not-for-profit that works to foster sustainability in the events industry. And with Monterey’s newly renovated conference center working toward LEED Platinum certification, the region is increasingly enticing to corporate clients and event planners for whom sustainability is a priority. Read more…

Tackling climate change with a tasty plant-based menu

Fighting climate change, according to Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Chef Matt Beaudin, should “taste amazing.”

With that in mind, Chef Matt and his team have designed a sumptuous—and almost entirely plant-based—menu to show just how delicious climate-friendly meals can be.

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Executive Chef Matt Beaudin gets creative with a seasonal, plant-based menu.

In developing the latest seasonal menu for the Aquarium Restaurant, Chef Matt wanted to both lower the carbon footprint of each dish, and to delight customers’ taste buds with new and enticing flavors.

“This menu takes forgotten ingredients and makes them the star of the show,” says Chef Matt, who sources a significant portion of the Aquarium’s food from Evergreen Acres farm in nearby San Benito County.

For the Aquarium, this winter menu is all about providing people with an opportunity to try something new—and to embrace the power we hold when deciding what to eat.

Read more…

Disability access and ocean conservation: Stronger together

Last year, the Aquarium called on California legislators to pass the Straws On Request billAs that law takes effect—and Monterey Bay communities adopt new local laws to cut back on single-use plastic—we’re working with our colleagues in the Disability community to ensure that anyone who needs a plastic straw can still access one.

In today’s guest post, Allie Cannington of the Disability Organizing (DO) Network discusses the results of a new study assessing the suitability of alternatives to plastic single-use straws for people who need them. DOnetwork is a program of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, funded through the Department of Rehabilitation and State Independent Living Council.


As of January 1, 2019, full-service restaurants in California may only provide straws when customers ask for them. At the same time, some cities and counties across the United States are passing local laws restricting straws and other single-use plastic materials.

At first glance, straw bans—intended to slow the rate of plastic pollution, particularly in our ocean—may seem beneficial for everyone. And yet, they can also threaten the independence of many people with disabilities.

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Russell Rawlings, left, tests a reusable stainless steel straw with a silicone tip as part of the Disability Organizing Network’s study.

Russell Rawlings, a Disabled advocate from Sacramento, reminds us that straws are an assistive technology tool. The AT Industry Association defines assistive technology as “any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.” Other well-known examples of assistive technology include wheelchairs, hearing aids and speech-to-text technology.

Hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities rely on straws as assistive technology every day. Historically and to this day, single-use plastic straws have provided people with disabilities access to independence, community integration and public life.

“Bottom line, straws enable me to access hydration with dignity,” Russell says. “Would it be possible to hydrate without them? Only if I had assistance. Do I feel the same level of dignity in a public setting without them? Absolutely not.”

Read more…

Counting fish like a BOSS

Counting fish in the ocean isn’t easy—particularly when they swim among jagged rocks and along undersea cliffs hundreds of feet below the waves. To help, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has developed a new camera system called the Benthic Observation Survey System, or BOSS.

The BOSS camera design was fine-tuned, including simulated deployment in MBARI’s test tank, before it was placed in the ocean. BOSS photos ©MBARI

A five-foot metal cylinder that features an array of cameras and lights, the BOSS is designed to be lowered from a ship to the seafloor and land upright on rocky terrain. There, it will help scientists survey fish populations using eight high-definition video cameras.

Researchers and policymakers need this technology to find out more about life in the ocean and how to better protect it. MBARI developed the BOSS with input from investigators at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and The Nature Conservancy .

“The scientists I’m working with are looking at areas that previously were heavily fished out,” explains MBARI staff engineer Chad Kecy, who led the effort to design and build the BOSS. Chad and his colleagues are trying to get a better understanding of how fish populations are recovering in these areas, what species are present, how big they are and where they swim.

Chad likes the challenge of solving problems on a tight timeline. The BOSS had to be built and tested in a matter of months, because the scientists who planned to deploy it already had research trips scheduled on boats that could not wait.

“Now the scientists are busy analyzing all this video they were able to capture with the tool that we developed,” Chad says.

Mary Gleason, science director for The Nature Conservancy’s California Oceans Program and who helped develop the BOSS, says it can fill important gaps in existing data, based on its inaugural voyage: “We showed that we could get 400 video surveys done across 300 miles of coastline during one three-week cruise. So that’s pretty efficient in terms of data quantity.”

Read more…

Ringing in the New Year with resolutions to cut plastic

The dawn of a new year is a traditional time to address our excesses—whether it’s too many calories, too much spending or too much screen time. This year, several Monterey Bay communities are ringing in 2019 with newly adopted resolutions to cut back on single-use plastic.

In December 2018, the city of Monterey voted to limit the use of disposable plastic service ware in food establishments throughout the city. Earlier in the month, Santa Cruz County adopted a new law targeting single-use plastic packaging for personal care products in the hospitality industry.

Both laws aim to curtail waste and protect Monterey Bay from plastic pollution. They’re part of a global wave of action, from the local to national levels, to slow the flow of plastic from land to sea.

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A plastic bag floats in the ocean. Photo by Patrick Kelley / Marine Photobank

Our growing plastic problem

Scientists estimate that around 9 million tons of plastic make their way from land to sea every year. That’s like dumping a garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute, injuring marine animals that mistake plastic for food or get tangled in it.

If we don’t make changes, scientists say, the rate of ocean plastic pollution will double by 2025. Manufacturers are producing more plastic than ever before, and our ability to recycle it just isn’t keeping up. The Royal Statistical Society recently shined a spotlight on the gap: Its International Statistic of 2018 is 90.5 percentthe proportion of plastic waste that has never been recycled.

Governments around the world, from the local to national levels, are addressing the problem through new laws to restrict single-use plastic products, improve waste management and protect the ocean from plastic pollution. In the long term, these actions support a transition away from single-use plastic, toward more ocean-friendly alternatives. Read more…

Rising to the climate challenge: A call to courage, and action

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Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard introduces the ocean plenary at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

Many of us may be feeling discouraged by recent scientific reports about the pace and impact of global climate change.

In a video posted on the Aquarium’s website and social media channels, Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard is calling on concerned Americans to step up and get involved.

“Acting together, with courage, we can protect our beautiful, living blue planet,” Julie says. “I know we’re up to the task.”

Her message comes as world leaders gather in Poland for COP 24 climate talks, and as new scientific reports confirm the steep toll that climate change is already taking on human lives. Those reports include the National Climate Assessment from the U.S. government, a similar assessment from the State of California, and the just-released United Nations’ Emission Gap Report for 2018.

The latest polling shows a majority of Americans agree with the scientific consensus about climate change—and are ready to take courageous action.


Learn more about the ocean impacts of climate change, and what you can do to make a difference.

 

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