Take a deep breath. Now, breathe again.
You can thank the ocean for that second breath, and thank science for helping us understand all the ocean brings to our lives.
Phytoplankton – microscopic plants that draw energy from the sun – produce at least half the oxygen in the atmosphere. But the ocean also absorbs much of the carbon dioxide we produce by burning fossil fuels. The resulting chemical changes make seawater more acidic.
This is a life-and-death matter, because acidification limits the ability of plankton to produce the oxygen on which our survival depends. How quickly is this happening? How can we avert the consequences?
Science can help us understand, and point the way to solutions.
That’s why the Monterey Bay Aquarium is joining other science organizations, experts and individuals around the world on Earth Day, April 22, to publicly affirm the vital role science plays in our lives, and nurture the curiosity of young people eager to understand how our world works.
It’s so important that public policy decisions be grounded in evidence-based scientific research. The environment, the economy and communities all benefit when we align our decisions with good science.
At the aquarium, science is in our DNA. It’s reflected in how we develop our living exhibits, shape our education programs and study ocean wildlife like sea otters and white sharks. It’s the backbone of our advocacy for policies to protect the living ocean.
We’re fortunate that California has long embraced science as the basis for public policy. Our state’s global leadership has paid huge dividends – for the ocean, and for so many other areas of society. We’ve built a public education system that encourages scientific inquiry. Our universities are catalysts for new enterprises and agricultural innovations that make ours the sixth-largest economy in the world.
California created a first-in-the-nation network of marine protected areas along our coast, using ecosystem-based science. Already, research confirms that marine life is thriving inside these blue parks, and replenishing the biodiversity of surrounding waters.
This benefits everyone whose life is enriched by the abundance of ocean life, from fishermen to scuba divers, to the millions of visitors who come from around the world to see California’s stunning coast for themselves.
State leaders continue to take their cues from science. In recent years they’ve enacted legislation to more aggressively cut the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. Our legislators banned single-use plastic grocery bags that pollute the ocean—and last November, California voters backed them up by passing Proposition 67.
We’ve seen what happens when we ignore the science, or take hasty action in the absence of research. We put lead in our gasoline and let toxic chemicals pollute our waters without understanding the consequences for human health and life-sustaining ecosystems.
When science showed us the true environmental costs of our actions, people mobilized. On April 22, 1970, 20 million people rallied across the United States for the first Earth Day, demanding that our elected officials step up to protect the environment. What followed was unprecedented.
In short order, a bipartisan Congress voted to safeguard our air, our water, endangered species and marine mammals. These science-based protections worked. Today our air and water are cleaner, and many endangered species are rebounding.
Now, we must again use our voices to remind our leaders of the lessons we learned the hard way, and that science helped us recover from those mistakes. The March for Science is an important place to begin.
Julie Packard is executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and an international voice for ocean conservation issues. She is a recipient of the Audubon Medal for Conservation, was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was named a California Coastal Hero by the California Coastal Commission and Sunset magazine. She is a member of California’s Parks Forward Commission, which is crafting a blueprint for the future of the state’s park system, and serves on the boards of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.