Conservation & Science

A surge of ocean action in Sacramento

The 2018 California legislative session brought great news for the ocean! The Aquarium supported seven bills and two resolutions this year—and they all became state law.

These new state policies will:

  • Protect our coast from federal offshore oil and gas drilling
  • Restrict several common single-use plastic products that pollute the ocean
  • Continue to conserve California’s marine protected areas, and
  • Encourage new, more sustainable fisheries practices

Here’s a bill-by-bill breakdown.

Assembly Bill 1884: Straws On Request. Enacted.

What’s missing from this picture? We didn’t notice, either. California’s new Straws On Request law helps you skip the straws you don’t need.

What it does: The Straws On Request bill (Asm. Ian Calderon) requires that dine-in, full-service restaurants in California provide plastic straws only when customers ask for them.

Why it matters: Plastic pollution can now be found in almost every marine habitat on Earth—from polar ice to deep ocean trenches. It’s estimated that nearly 9 million U.S. tons of plastic enters the global ocean each year. Plastic straws are consistently among the most top items collected in beach cleanups around the world. Cutting back on the unnecessary use of plastic straws reduces one source of ocean plastic pollution, and raises awareness of the larger problem.

Our role: The Aquarium rallied behind this legislation. We wrote letters of support, testified at legislative committee hearings, and urged the public to contact their legislators in support of the bill. The Legislature passed AB 1884, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it. It takes effect in January 2019, but you can start skipping straws today.

California Senator Bill Monning, left, sponsored a state resolution making No Straw Novemberan idea championed by Aquarium Teen Conservation Leader Shelby O’Neilofficial statewide.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 139: No Straw November. Passed.

What it does: SCR 139 (Sen. Bill Monning) declares the month of November as “No Straw November” in the State of California.

Why it matters:  This initiative raises awareness about the growing problem of plastic pollution and brings attention to the power of individual actions, like refusing single-use plastic straws, in working toward positive change. High school student Shelby O’Neil, an Aquarium Teen Conservation Leader and founder of the Jr Ocean Guardians, is the driving force behind the resolution, which challenges businesses and individuals to cut back on straws for one month. Hopefully that will lead to lasting behavior change; they say it takes three weeks to make a new habit!

Our role: The Aquarium and Shelby jointly sponsored this resolution, working with Senator Monning and his staff to draft the resolution and supporting documents, and joining him on the Senate floor for the SCR 139 vote. California’s first No Straw November begins in two weeks.

Offshore oil and gas drilling has been limited in California. One existing operation is Platform Harvest, in federal waters 7 miles from Point Conception. Photo by NASA JPL.

Assembly Bill 1775: Prohibits new infrastructure for offshore oil and gas drilling. Enacted.

What it does: AB 1775 (Asm. Al Muratsuchi) prohibits the State Lands Commission, which has jurisdiction over waters up to 3 miles offshore, from granting leases for new oil and gas pipelines, and infrastructure. Under this law, California will not approve new pipelines or allow the use of existing pipelines to transport oil and gas iff new offshore drilling wins federal approval.

Why it matters: The Trump Administration has proposed opening nearly all U.S. ocean waters, including six areas in California, to oil and gas drilling. Potential impacts of an oil spill are both immediate and long-lasting. Burning oil, coal and natural gas also contributes to climate change and ocean acidification. This bill builds on California’s long-standing defense of our state’s remarkable ocean and coast, and the marine life that depend on them.

Our role: The Aquarium wrote letters in support of the state bill. We also pushed back against the federal proposal to open nearly all U.S. ocean waters to offshore oil and gas drilling, inviting our digital audiences to stand up for our ocean through comments in the Federal Register—and thousands responded. The California Legislature passed AB 1775, protecting California waters from new oil and gas development, and the governor signed it. The bill covers leases as of January 2018.

Assemblymember Gonzalez’s bill will increase the fines for illegal fishing in marine protected areas like Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Assembly Bill 2369: Higher fines for commercial illegal poaching violations in marine protected areas. Enacted.

What it does: AB 2369 (Asm. Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher) raises the penalties for illegal fishing in marine protected areas. Previously, fines for illegal fishing by commercial fisherman and passenger boats, also called “party boats,” were capped at $1,000. Once the law takes effect, penalties will become $5,000 to $40,000 for the first offense, $10,000 to $50,000 for the second offense, and loss of license after the third offense.

Why it matters: California was the first state to establish a network of marine protected areas (MPAs), which now comprises 18 percent of state waters. Some MPAs allow limited fishing, while others are off-limits. A collaborative scientific report concluded that fish inside MPAs tend to grow bigger and more abundant, and produce more young, than those in unprotected areas. In other words, MPAs provide a reserve of fish that can re-populate depleted stocks in adjacent waters. This only happens when fishing limits are enforced and effective.

Our role:The Aquarium was part of a large and diverse coalition supporting this bill. AB 2369 passed unanimously in both the Assembly and Senate, and takes effect in January 2019.

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Squid boats fish with purse seine nets in Monterey Bay. Experimental permits allow fishermen to innovate more sustainable gear and fishing methods.

Assembly Bill 1573: Encourages new approaches to sustainable fishing. Enacted.

What it does:  AB 1573 (Asm. Richard Bloom) creates a state version of a federal permit that allows fishermen to test out new, more sustainable fishing practices.

Why it matters: We need to be able to test new ways of sustainable fishing. This permit encourages fishermen to get creative in order to reduce bycatch and habitat damage. Ultimately, their innovation could lead to stronger regulations and more sustainable fishing in California waters.

Our role: The Aquarium was part of a coalition in favor of this bill, and also submitted an individual letter of support. The new permit becomes available in January 2019.

Sampling reveals microplastic in beach sand. Photo by Peter Charaff (, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Senate Bill 1263: Creates a statewide microplastic strategy. Enacted.

What it does:  SB 1263 (Sen. Anthony Portantino) directs the state’s Ocean Protection Council to examine “microplastic”—pieces smaller than 5 millimeters across—in the marine environment. The goal is to better understand how much microplastic is polluting the ocean, how it’s affecting marine life, and create a plan to address the problem.

Why it matters: Over the last decade, scientists have discovered tiny pieces of plastic, most of them smaller than an M&M candy, in all parts of the ocean. More science—like our recent study on the transport and cycling of plastics through ocean food webs—is needed to understand the impacts, and inform policies in response. This bill will produce a science-based strategy to tackle the growing problem of microplastic pollution.

Our role: The Aquarium submitted a letter in support of this legislation. The Ocean Protection Council is required to develop a statewide microplastics strategy by 2021.

When reusable materials aren’t an option, opt for recyclable glass or metal, like this bottled water in aluminum.

Senate Bill 1335: Requires that all take-out food packaging at state facilities be compostable or recyclable. Enacted.

What it does:  SB 1335 (Sen. Ben Allen) requires that all food containers provided at facilities in state-owned properties—including parks, colleges and fairgrounds—be recyclable or compostable. To help food vendors comply with the law, CalRecycle will develop and distribute a list of acceptable packaging types.

Why it matters: Take-out food packaging in California generates tons of non-recyclable, non-compostable waste every day. Much of that waste finds its way into the natural environment, including the ocean, where it can harm marine life. This bill is one important step to reduce the sources of ocean plastic pollution.

Our role: The Aquarium joined a coalition of organizations in support of this legislation. The bill takes effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

A student with the Aquarium’s Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats (WATCH) program conducts research in Elkhorn Slough.

Senate Bill 720: Requires environmental literacy at all public schools. Enacted.

What it does:  SB 720 (Sen. Ben Allen) directs the Superintendent of Public Instruction to increase environmental education in public schools. This bill ensures that environmental literacy is part of K-12 curricula, and encourages school boards to promote it.  

Why it matters: We must equip California’s young people with the tools necessary to navigate a rapidly changing environment. The Aquarium’s education programs are leading the way in ecosystem-based science education as we work to inspire students with a lifelong passion for the environment, and offer professional development support teachers as they bring environmental education to California schools.

Our role: The Aquarium submitted a letter in support of this legislation. It will influence updates to the state’s K-12 curriculum beginning January 1, 2020.

To protect California’s coast and ocean in the face of climate change, we need bold, science-based action.

Assembly Joint Resolution 47: Supports science-based action to protect California’s coast and ocean in the face of climate change. Passed.

What it does:  AJR 47 (Asm. Richard Bloom) affirms the Legislature’s support for science-based action to conserve, protect, restore and effectively manage California’s coastal and ocean ecosystems in the face of rapid climate change. It also urges federal and state agencies to protect the communities most at risk from these changes.

Why it matters: Climate change is a major threat to human and ecosystem health. Even if all greenhouse gas emissions stopped today, the amount of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere would still drive global changes for which we must prepare and adapt. This resolution affirms the importance of science-based planning for impacts such as sea-level rise, intensifying storms, ocean acidification and hypoxia.

Our role: The Aquarium was part of a coalition in support of this resolution, which took effect upon passage.

Featured image: “California State Capitol” by Andre m – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Learn more about the Aquarium’s work to influence ocean conservation policy.


Julie Packard: It’s time for courageous climate action

It’s not easy to find good news  when talking about climate change. The latest scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change spells out in no uncertain terms the magnitude of the challenges we face—and the urgency of action.

Executive Director Julie Packard welcomed delegates to the ocean plenary at the Global Climate Action Summit.

It’s true that global scale climate trends continue to be daunting. But the pace of solutions is accelerating. So, in that way I’m among the optimists (along with the newest Nobel laureate in economics). As a global society, we know we must do to get on a sustainable course. We’re making progress faster than ever, and we have more tools to do the job. Many of these tools were created in Silicon Valley, and in other hubs of innovation around the world, from Redmond, Washington to Mumbai, India.

Last month, I left the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco feeling energized. Monterey Bay Aquarium played a key role in putting the ocean on the Summit agenda, and it was clear people finally recognize that a healthy ocean is critical to avoiding catastrophic climate change. The question now is: Do we have the will to make it happen?

California and the West Coast are leading the way to a clean-energy future. Photo by BLM / Tom Brewster Photography

Judging by the progress being made on the U.S. West Coast, and the business and government commitments announced at the Summit, I think the answer is yes. That’s especially apparent here on California’s central coast. Our region has become the global nexus for ocean education, innovation and impact. Read more…

We Are Still In for the ocean

The week of September 10, people from around the world are gathering in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit. Convened by the State of California, the Summit brings together leaders—representing nations, states, cities, companies, investors and citizens—to celebrate climate action, and step up their ambitions to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement. As part of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s climate commitment, we’re moving to green our own business operations. Here’s how:

Monterey Bay Aquarium has announced a new set of climate commitments: By 2025, we will achieve net-zero carbon emissions and will transition 100 percent of our vehicle fleet to renewable power.

The Aquarium has committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions.

“We know that climate change is the single greatest threat to ocean health, and to all humankind,” said Margaret Spring, chief conservation officer and vice president of conservation & science for the Aquarium.

Margaret made the announcement on the stage of the “We Mean Business Action” platform hosted by We Are Still In in San Francisco during the Global Climate Action Summit.

We Are Still In is a coalition of more than 3,500 U.S. businesses, cities, universities, cultural institutions, health care organizations, faith groups, states and tribes that committed to climate action in keeping with the 2015 Paris Agreement, after the federal government announced plans to withdraw from the historic global climate accord.

Read more…

California steps up its climate leadership

The week of September 10, people from around the world are gathering in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit. Convened by the State of California, the Summit brings together leaders—representing nations, states, cities, companies, investors and citizens—to celebrate climate action, and step up their ambitions to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement. Ken Alex, senior policy advisor to Governor Jerry Brown, reflects on  California’s leadership at this pivotal moment.

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Ken Alex is senior policy advisor to Governor Jerry Brown, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and chair of the Strategic Growth Council.

I grew up in Southern California, and spent lots of time at Seal Beach, Sunset, Huntington, and Bolsa Chica. Those beaches were a central part of my childhood. Today, scientists say they may be gone within 80 years.

Just last month, the state of California issued its most recent evaluation of climate change impact, California’s Fourth Assessment. The report states that as many as two-thirds of Southern California beaches could completely erode by 2100 without large-scale human interventions. By 2050, just 32 years from now, an estimated $17.9 billion worth of residential and commercial buildings across the state could be inundated by sea-level rise.

We already know the impact of fires, heat and drought, exacerbated by climate change, on our state. Climate change is real. It is dramatic. It impacts all of us. Fortunately, action is at hand—and more is on the way. Read more…

Straw Woman: Our California policy expert breaks down the Straws On Request bill

This month, we’re asking Aquarium visitors and social media followers in California to support the Straws On Request bill—and join the movement to combat ocean plastic pollution. We sat down with Amy Wolfrum, our California Ocean Conservation Policy Manager, to discuss the bill and how it connects to the Aquarium’s larger ocean conservation mission.

UPDATE 9.20.18We did it! The California Legislature passed the Straws On Request bill, AB 1884, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law. Beginning January 1, 2019, dine-in restaurants across the state will provide a plastic straw only to customers who ask for one.

California Ocean Conservation Policy Manager Amy Wolfrum

What’s the Straws On Request bill?

California Assembly Bill (AB) 1884, sometimes called the Straws On Request bill, would require that dine-in, full-service restaurants across the state provide straws only when customers ask for them. Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon introduced the bill in response to a growing body of science showing that plastic pollution is a real problem for our planet—especially the ocean.

Why is plastic such a problem for the ocean?

It’s estimated that nearly 9 million U.S. tons of plastic enters the global ocean each year. That’s like dumping a garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute! And if people around the world don’t make changes, the rate of plastic flowing into the sea is expected to double by 2025.

Plastic can now be found in almost every marine habitat on Earth—from polar ice to deep ocean trenches. Marine animals are harmed by plastic pollution in two ways: when they accidentally eat it, and when they become entangled in it.

Read more…

New kids on the block

Monterey Bay and surrounding waters are prime habitat for white sharks. The same adult white sharks visit this part California annually over decades, mostly during fall and early winter. Farther south, from Santa Barbara to Central Baja, white shark babies, or pups, typically spend their first years in warmer “nursery” waters.

The cohort of young white sharks close to popular Santa Cruz County beaches has sparked Monterey Bay Aquarium researchers to investigate what’s drawn them to the area. Photo © Giancarlo Thomae Photography

What’s new and surprising, though, is that in recent years a seasonal group of younger white sharks has established itself within sight of the beaches at the north end of Monterey Bay. Is this new cohort taking up residence as a result of warming ocean conditions? And why are the sharks aggregating in one portion of the bay?

That’s what Monterey Bay Aquarium research scientist Dr. Sal Jorgensen and his colleagues hope to determine in the coming months.

Read more…

Action Alert: Keep U.S. seafood sustainable—speak out against H.R. 200

The United States has some of the most sustainable fisheries in the world, thanks to our strong, science-based federal management. Most of the fish populations swimming off U.S. shores are at healthy levels, and many have recovered from decades of overfishing.

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A seafood market worker fillets halibut in Monterey. Photo by Steve Kepple

That’s something Americans can be proud of.

But a bill introduced in Congress could undo that progress, taking our country back to the old days of overfishing, unsustainable management and crashing fish stocks.

There’s still time to stop this harmful legislation—but we need your help! Please join us and tell Congress to vote NO on H.R. 200.

Your voice matters

H.R. 200 would weaken our successful federal fishery law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. On Wednesday, July 11, the bill is headed to a vote on the House floor.

This is where you come in! Please contact your House representative today, and ask them to vote NO on H.R. 200.

Click here to contact your representative, and tell them to vote NO on H.R. 200.

Here are some suggested talking points:

  • Americans want sustainable seafood. Listening to science is the best way to protect fish, fishermen and consumers from the risk of overfishing.
  • Please keep the Magnuson-Stevens Act strong by maintaining science-based management, annual catch limits and timelines for rebuilding fish populations.
  • Americans can be proud of our country’s sustainable fishery management, which is inspiring nations around the world to follow our lead. Let’s keep it that way.
  • Please vote NO on H.R. 200!

Read more…

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