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.


Changing minds on climate change

The week of Septemer 10, people from around the world gathered in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit. Convened by the State of California, the Summit brought 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.

Monterey Bay Aquarium took part in the Summit to call for protection of the ocean, our most powerful tool to mitigate, and adapt to the impacts of, climate change. But what about the everyday work for climate solutions—the conversations we have with our families, neighbors, friends and colleagues? Aquarium Conservation Interpreter Allison Arteaga shares tips on how to make your next climate conversation a productive one.

The Aquarium’s mission is to inspire conservation of the ocean. Each of us has a role to play through our everyday conversations.

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a mother and her teenage son encounter an abalone at a touch pool. They’ll learn how they can help give shell-building animals like this one the stable ocean chemistry they need to support entire marine food webs.

A retired couple watching a green turtle glide through the water at the Open Sea will discover what they can do to protect the next generation of sea turtles, which need stable beach temperatures to nest successfully. And a group of young adults mesmerized by the swaying of a kelp forest will be inspired by the ways in which, like the kelp itself, local communities are now getting their energy from the sun in order to protect the ocean.

Conversations like these have power. At the Aquarium, we believe talking about climate change is an important part of the solution. That’s why we’ve been working for more than a decade on effective strategies to engage the public, particularly our 2 million annual visitors, in conversations about climate science and solutions.

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…

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…

Trump Administration’s Ocean Policy puts short-term economic gain over long-term ocean health

On June 19, the Trump Administration issued an executive order revoking the 2010 National Ocean Policy established by President Obama. The order also creates a new National Ocean Policy that shifts the focus of ocean resource management from stewardship and sustainability to oil and gas development and national security.

“The President’s executive order undermines our ability to sustain ocean and coastal resources over time for the benefit of this and future generations of Americans,” says Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. “The new policy places too much emphasis on short-term economic gain over long-term ocean health and prosperity.”

For more than 30 years, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has inspired conservation of the ocean. In light of the President’s executive order, we will redouble our efforts in Monterey and beyond—with businesses,  elected officials and international leaders—to address the top threats facing the ocean today, advancing science-based solutions for a sustainable future.

Read more…

March for the Ocean on World Oceans Day weekend

M4O-DATEToday, thousands of people wearing blue will form a human wave in Washington, D.C.—and in cities  around the world—during the first March for the Ocean.

It’s a show of solidarity for the global sea that unites us, and on whose health our survival depends. Participants are marching to oppose offshore oil and gas drilling, help protect coastal communities from rising seas and other climate disasters, and end the flow of plastic pollution from land to sea.

March for the Ocean is organized by the Blue Frontier Campaign and supported by over 100 partner organizations, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In California, supporters will march in San Francisco and clean up a beach in Playa del Rey. Click here to find an event near you.

If you can’t attend a march in person, you can join the livestream at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time / 1:30 p.m. Eastern; speak up on social media and tag #MarchForTheOcean; and wear blue. To learn more, visit

Featured image: Rose Atoll National Marine Monument. Photo by Ian Shive/USFWS via CC BY-NC 2.0. This image was cropped.

Vote #YesOn68 to support California’s ocean and coast

UPDATE – June 6, 2018

We did it!

With your help, Californians have passed Proposition 68 with 56 percent voter approval, authorizing the state to issue $4 billion in bonds to protect our natural resources. This investment will empower California to address some of the state’s most important water, park, and natural resource needs—including ocean and coastal conservation, climate adaptation and resilience, and increased access to parks and coastal areas.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is grateful to the voters—as well as the many organizations, bipartisan leaders and major newspapers  across the state—who stood up with us to sustain California’s natural beauty and living resources. Thank you!

Prop 68 would improve public access to beaches along California’s 840-mile coastline.

We owe it to our children and grandchildren to protect what we love about California—like our iconic coastline, diverse marine habitats and abundant wildlife.

That’s why Monterey Bay Aquarium is supporting Proposition 68 on the June 5 California ballot. Please join us in voting YES for the future of our ocean!

Proposition 68 is a bond measure that asks voters to approve a $4 billion investment in important natural resources. It is the first bond measure of its kind in more than a decade. If passed, it will help improve public access to California’s coast, boost our state’s resilience to climate change, and protect our ocean and coastal habitats.

Read more…

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