Conservation & Science

We’re moving! Check out our new home

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Exciting news: We’re moving! Our latest stories on ocean conservation and science at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are now being posted to the new “Stories” feature on the Aquarium’s website. This blog will be archived soon.

Thank you for your support of our work to inspire conservation of the ocean. We hope you’ll stay connected with us via email, and on your favorite social media channels.

The changing map of life on Earth

Life is found across the planet, including in some pretty inhospitable places. Plants and animals have adapted and thrive everywhere from icy Antarctica to the Sonoran desert; from deep-sea hydrothermal vents to freshwater lakes and temperate woodlands.

Some regions, known as biodiversity hotspots, support incredible numbers and varieties of living things. Tropical rain forests and coral reefs are among the most productive and diverse places for life on Earth, and yet face unprecedented threats to their survival.

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Scientists accounted for almost 11,000 fish species, along with tens of thousands of arthropods, cnidarians, worms and other animals, in a map of Earth’s biodiversity. Photo courtesy NOAA.

But what factors make some places species-rich? What ecological influences are most critical to sustaining varied and abundant life? And how will the accelerating impacts of human-driven climate change affect species and the places that support them?

Scientists now have an answer — one that will help inform efforts to preserve biodiversity and protect critical habitats as climate change continues to disrupt ecosystems across the planet.

Read more…

California leaders make progress for the ocean

This year, the California Legislature got things done for our state’s beautiful ocean and coast — and we were a part of it. The Aquarium spoke up in support of science-based legislation for a healthy ocean, and several of these bills were signed into law. These important new policies will:

  • Improve youth access to our state parks,
  • Leverage nature’s most powerful tools against climate change, and
  • Cut back on waste by encouraging reusable containers at restaurants and food trucks.

Here’s a closer look at all the state accomplished.

Read more…

Tiny crustacean, big transformation: Part 4

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to make the global shrimp supply chain more environmentally sustainable, from family farms in Southeast Asia to customers’ plates in the United States. In this final installment of a four-part series, we begin to see the payoff of this effortas a small supply of sustainably farmed shrimp makes its way from Vietnam to Los Angeles. (Continued from Part 1Part 2 and Part 3)


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A street-cart vendor serves customers in Bangkok. Photo by Tore Bustad via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Silver skyscrapers stretch into the clouds above Bangkok, towering over streets packed with traffic and colorful food tents. Street-cart vendors serve sticky pad Thai, lotus-root curry and pickled pig skin from sizzling woks. This city of more than eight million is alive with open-air markets, underground art and some of the world’s oldest temples.

Seafood Watch Science Director Wendy Norden looks out from the restaurant balcony. Her team of ocean policy and aquaculture experts is decompressing after a busy day of meetings. They had spent more than eight hours with dozens of stakeholders from across Southeast Asia, brainstorming solutions to the seafood industry’s biggest challenges, from habitat degradation and chemical overuse to labor abuses.

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Aquarium policy expert Josh Madeira, center, checks out a farmer’s shrimp in Thailand. Photo by Mark C. Anderson

The group included Vietnamese caviar producers, Indonesian fish professionals, Burmese seafood producers, American seafood buyers, and environmental auditors from Ireland, Thailand and Vietnam—all face-to-face in a Bangkok conference room.

“The people in that room pull a lot of levers,” says Tyler Isaac, a Seafood Watch aquaculture scientist. “There’s a chance to make a really big impact, from both the top and from the ground level.”

His boss agrees. “We’re filling a need that’s not being met,” Wendy says. “We’re trying to dig in and solve difficult issues that nobody’s been able to solve yet.” Read more…

Tiny crustacean, big transformation: Part 3

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to make the global shrimp supply chain more environmentally sustainable, from family farms in Southeast Asia to customers’ plates in the United States. In this third installment of a four-part series, we explore how an innovative partnership is driving an ambitious vision for sustainable shrimp production. (Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.) 


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“Sustainability is very important for human beings and other species sharing our common home,” says Aquarium consultant Cu Thi Le Thuy. Photo by Mark C. Anderson

Friday rush hour traffic rumbles by the Hanoi coffee shop where Cu Thi Le Thuy sips a cup of hot tea. Mopeds zip between cars, pedestrians weave through the currents and sirens amplify the tumult.

But for Thuy, this is a rare moment of stillness. She gazes past the traffic at Hoàn Kiếm Lake and its Temple of the Jade Mountain, which appears to float on the water. Thuy has a gift for focusing on what’s most important when others might be overwhelmed by the surrounding noise. 

The Aquarium hired Thuy as a regional expert who knows her native Vietnam and its neighboring nations inside out. She works as a translator in the broadest sense—helping bridge linguistic, cultural and knowledge gaps between Aquarium experts and the region’s seafood industry representatives. And she’s helping deploy a new tool that aims to share the power, and responsibility, of verification throughout the supply chain.

The Aquarium’s collaboration with Thuy, and regional experts like her, gets to the heart of a common question: Why are we working to influence seafood production an ocean away from our California headquarters?

Put simply: Market power. Read more…

Tiny crustacean, big transformation: Part 2

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to make the global shrimp supply chain more environmentally sustainable, from family farms in Southeast Asia to customers’ plates in the United States. In this second installment of a four-part series, we take a peek at life on the shrimp pond—as Seafood Watch wades into the business of small-scale aquaculture in Southeast Asia. (Continued from Part 1.)


Pokkrong Kirdsook, Taylor Voorhees and Tyler Isaac walk single-file onto a thin wooden plank. The boards bow with each step, sagging closer to the pond four feet below. Pokkrong pulls up a spindly rope, lifting a cylindrical mesh cage from the water.

It looks like they could be panning for gold, but the riches in this cage are more lively. Exposed to the warm air on this humid afternoon in southern Thailand, whiteleg shrimp wriggle and jump on the mesh. 

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Left to right: Seafood Watch experts Tyler Isaac and Taylor Voorhees; shrimp farmer Pokkrong Kirdsook. Photo by Mark C. Anderson

Taylor and Tyler, both Seafood Watch senior aquaculture scientists, admire the results. Shrimp farmers need to navigate a number of risks to produce shrimp this healthy. Even the variation within a lunar cycle can impact the development of their protective exoskeletons. 

The tiny pier on Pokkrong’s farm is 8,300 miles from the Seafood Watch office in Monterey, California, but Taylor and Tyler feel at home. Both worked in aquaculture production before joining the Aquarium; they even built a small aquaponic rig in Tyler’s backyard.

They’re visiting shrimp operations in the Thai province of Krabi to talk with farmers about everything from local government regulations to wastewater management and natural remedies for shrimp ailments. 

Across the Pacific, a powerful network of North American retailers—including Seafood Watch partners Blue Apron, Red Lobster and Whole Foods—are interested in what they find out. Read more…

Tiny crustacean, big transformation: Part 1

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to make the global shrimp supply chain more environmentally sustainable, from family farms in Southeast Asia to customers’ plates in the United States. In this first installment of a four-part series, we examine the growing American appetite for shrimp—and how it’s created a booming industry across the Pacific.


Every night, in kitchens across America, hundreds of thousands of people prepare the same dinner. Recently it was cavatelli pasta with zucchini, garlic and cherry tomatoes, sautéed in butter with mascarpone cheese and tender shrimp.

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Shrimp cavatelli dish from meal-kit company Blue Apron. Photo courtesy Blue Apron

The portioned ingredients—down to the optional bottle of Viognier white wine—are delivered to customers’ doorsteps from Blue Apron, a national meal kit company that makes this sophisticated meal easy to prepare. The shrimp is also sustainable: As a partner of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, Blue Apron avoids seafood that’s produced in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.

Carrie Conley of Fort Irwin, California, says she chose Blue Apron because of its partnership with Seafood Watch. Sustainable seafood has been important to her since she started visiting the Aquarium, where she learned about the environmental impacts of fishing and aquaculture

“If I’m actively trying to find organic chicken,” she reasoned, “why not make better choices across the board?” 

Blue Apron makes it easy for customers like Carrie to access sustainably harvested shrimp. But producing that shrimp, and getting it into meal-kit boxes from faraway places like Southeast Asia, is anything but simple.

This is the story of how a broad network—including global seafood businesses, government agencies, Vietnamese shrimp farmers, U.S. chefs and the Monterey Bay Aquarium—are working together to make it happen. Read more…

Climate change: A triple threat for the ocean

The ocean headlines these past few months have been unsettling. 

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Now is the time for climate action. It’s not too late; we still have a choice about the kind of future we want to leave today’s children.

A just-released scientific report connects these and a host of other ocean changes with human activities that take place largely on land. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate marks the first time that the IPCC has written a stand-alone report on the marine realm. It presents a detailed account of the increasingly severe consequences of climate change for the ocean, its trillions of creatures and, ultimately, ourselves. 

The report makes clear that to protect the ocean, we must first reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But we must also reduce ocean stress, caused by overfishing and pollution, so the ocean is healthy enough to weather the changes already underway.

“The bottom line is that we need the ocean. And right now, the ocean needs us,” said Julie Packard, executive director of the Aquarium. “It’s not too late to take courageous climate action and safeguard the ocean from further damage.” 

Read more…

The feel-good science behind sea otter surrogacy

Surrogate-reared otter released into Elkhorn Slough by Monterey Bay Aquarium
A new study reveals the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program bolsters the local otter population. Here, a surrogate-reared otter leaps into Elkhorn Slough on California’s central coast.

Ask not (only) what you can do for sea otters, but what sea otters can do for California.

That’s one of the thoughts on the minds of Aquarium scientists in the wake of a new study, which confirms the power of sea otters to restore coastal ecosystems.

Since 2002, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has reared rescued sea otter pups for release to the wild. Female otters in our exhibit serve as their “surrogate mothers,” teaching them critical life skills like how to groom themselves and forage. The hope is that when the pups are released in Elkhorn Slough, a wetland 20 miles north of the Aquarium, they’ll be able to thrive on their own.

A newly published study confirms that these surrogate-reared pups are surviving as well as their wild kin—and the resulting bump in the otter population at Elkhorn Slough is helping to restore the estuary ecosystem.

The remarkable success of the Aquarium’s program, documented in Oryx, highlights a tremendous opportunity: to help sea otters contribute to the revival of other coastal estuaries along the California coast. Read more…

California Action Alert: Help us turn the tide against ocean plastic pollution!

UPDATE Sept. 16, 2019: Unfortunately, the State Legislature did not vote on the California Plastic Pollution Reduction Act in 2019.  However, leaders can pick the bills back up in 2020. We are confident that there will continue to be momentum next year to advance this legislation. Please stay tuned! 

(Clic aquí para leer en español)

Monterey Bay is celebrated around the world for its beautiful ocean views and photogenic wildlife, like sea otters, sardines and whales. But even these protected waters are more polluted than they seem.

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Researchers found plastic in the bodies of pelagic red crabs, which are food for many ocean animals, from the surface to the deep sea. Photo © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Patrick Webster

Aquarium and MBARI scientists recently found plastic throughout the Monterey Bay water column, from the surface to the deep sea. And most of it matched the same type of plastic used in the single-use products we discard every day, like water bottles, takeout food containers and other packaging.

If we don’t change course, the amount of plastic flowing into the ocean is projected to double in just six years. But California is in a position to get out in front of this challenge and lead the U.S. toward a cleaner future.

The California Plastic Pollution Reduction Act sets a target of reducing 75 percent of packaging waste—and the most polluting single-use plastic products—by 2030. And it sets criteria to make sure that what remains is increasingly recycled or composted.

Join us in urging your California legislators to vote YES on the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act.

This bill is among the most visionary approaches to solid waste legislation in the state’s history. It tackles the growing problem of plastic pollution in our ocean and waterways, and inspires innovation to “design out” waste from the products and packages we use every day.

Read more…

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