Conservation & Science

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:

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.

A a Hawaiian monk seal in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Photo by NOAA

New blue parks protect marine life

This fall, Monterey Bay Aquarium joined aquariums across the country to support the creation of new marine protected areas (MPAs) in U.S. waters.  

In August, an executive order by President Barack Obama more than quadrupled the size of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument—originally established in 2006 by President George W. Bush—protecting a 500,000-square-mile area surrounding the northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Less than a month later, President Obama announced the nation’s first fully protected area in the Atlantic Ocean: the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, almost 5,000 square miles of deep-sea ecosystem off Cape Cod.

In October, the multi-country designation of the new Ross Sea marine protected area—at nearly 600,000 square miles, more than twice the size of Texas—set a precedent for international cooperation to improve ocean health. And in December, President Obama made large swaths of U.S. Arctic waters, along with a string of Atlantic canyons off the Northeast coast, off-limits to oil and gas drilling.  

Together, these new protected areas will give countless vulnerable marine species the opportunity to thrive.

“It’s been a banner year for ocean protection,” says Aimee David, the Aquarium’s director of ocean conservation policy strategies. “Marine protected areas play an important role in sustaining ocean life and building resiliency against the increasing impacts of global climate change.”

Customers use the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guide at a California fish market.

Federal program tracks fish out of water

On Dec. 8, with support from the Aquarium and our seafood industry partners, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced a traceability program that will electronically track some seafood imports from point of catch to the U.S. border. That’s a big deal, since more than 90 percent of the seafood available to consumers in the United States is imported.

The program will help crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing—which has been linked to pirate fishing, human rights abuses and seafood fraud. It’s a big step in the direction of a transparent and sustainable seafood supply.

Another worldwide win: the Port State Measures Agreement. Though it has an obscure-sounding name, this international deal makes it easier for regulators to inspect seafood catches at port, and to block vessels suspected of illegal fishing. By stepping up enforcement and sharing data, nations are working together to level the playing field for law-abiding fishermen, and to ensure we leave enough fish in the sea for future generations.

Dr. Kyle Van Houtan speaks at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Marrakech, Morocco.

Leaders take action on climate change

In 2015, the world’s nations forged the Paris Agreement: a bold global commitment to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. The agreement kicked into force in early November 2016, just as the international community convened in Marrakech, Morocco for the U.N. Conference on Climate Change.

Our science director, Dr. Kyle Van Houtan, traveled to Marrakech with a message: the global ocean is the heart of Earth’s climate system. We must use innovative, science-based solutions to slow the pace of climate change, and protect the future of our planet.

As Kyle reported on this blog, the talks offered cause for hope—inspiring bold commitments from industries, innovators and nations.

The low tide reveals red kelp at Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove, California.

Meanwhile, California kept up its reputation as a global climate leader.

Working with decision-makers in Sacramento, the Aquarium championed three successful state bills related to climate change. One sets a statewide emissions limit at 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. Two others enable more research and policy action to address ocean acidification and hypoxia.

Taken together, these bills encourage coastal resilience in the face of climate change.

Now more than ever, we’re motivated to keep working to protect the future of our blue planet. Let’s come together for a healthier ocean in 2017.

Learn more about Conservation & Science at Monterey Bay Aquarium.  

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