Conservation & Science

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…

Environmental literacy: Learning the language of the land

There are many types of literacy—language, culture and digital to name a few. But what about “environmental literacy”? It’s a language unto itself—with important implications for Earth’s natural environment and our future. Teaching environmental literacy helps ensure that the next generation will be aware of the issues facing our planet and can act as its steward.

So, how do we go about teaching the language of the land?

Partnering with Pajaro Valley schools, the Aquarium builds skills and confidence in teaching environmental literacy for participants in its Environmental Leadership Collaborative.

That’s the focus of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s new Environmental Leadership Collaborative (formerly the Science Learning Leaders Institute). The program is designed to help teachers meet the California’s new science and environmental literacy standards, and help ensure their students are equipped to address the burgeoning environmental challenges facing future generations.

For now, the two-year-old program focuses on Watsonville and the Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD). Given the success of the Institute, it could provide a template for teaching environmental literacy across the state—or even the nation. Read more…

Transforming science teaching through technology

Katy Scott, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s digital learning manager, sits in a small office just across Cannery Row from the Aquarium. The cramped space looks like a school classroom crossed with a NASA operations center. There are a dozen pairs of virtual reality goggles lying about, and 10 padded cases containing 18 iPads each. A snaking nest of charge cords comes out of the wall, attached to a host of other devices. Laptops whir and burst with color and animation.

Though Katy Noelle Scott is digital technology manager for the Aquarium’s education team, she infuses her work with a deep connection to the natural world–and a spirit of fun.

It’s a pretty geeky place.

There’s hardly room for a desk, but that’s okay—Katy’s not there much, anyway. She’s in the field, working with teachers and students, holding forth on the value of technology in science education and how it can be used to promote the Aquarium’s mission of inspiring conservation of the ocean.

The Aquarium’s digital learning initiatives reach hundreds of schools, teachers and more than 80,000 students every year, from the Bay Area to the Central Valley. In fact, Katy emphasizes that there is no separate “digital learning program” per se. Quite simply, it’s an approach that permeates everything the Aquarium does in the field of education.

The Aquarium incorporates technology to help students build skills that will prepare them for success in an emerging economy.

And, with next year’s opening of the Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership, it will play an increasingly important role complementing the inspirational power of the Aquarium’s live-animal experiences. Read more…

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.

Read more…

Champion of a plastic-free ocean earns Paul Walker Youth Award

We’ve proudly shared the story of Shelby O’Neil, a Teen Conservation Leader at the Monterey Bay Aquarium who’s been making a huge different in the campaign to reduce ocean plastic pollution.

Shelby O’Neil receives the Paul Walker Youth Award from Brandon Birtell of the Paul Walker Foundation and Aquarium Chief Operating Officer Cynthia Vernon.

She’s been recognized many times for her work, including as a guest speaker at Dreamforce and at Ocean Heroes panel during the Global Climate Action Summit. She’s one of the first class of Ocean Heroes recognized by the Aquarium, and earned a Girl Scout Gold Award for her work to raise awareness about the problem of single-use plastic – notably plastic straws.

Now 17 and a senior at San Benito High School, she’s the 2018 recipient of the Paul Walker Youth Award, presented to young people who share the late actor’s love of the ocean and his commitment to take an active role in safeguarding ocean health. Through the Paul Walker Foundation created by Paul’s daughter Meadow, Shelby will receive a college scholarship to support her studies, so she can contribute in new ways to ocean and conservation initiatives.

Read more…

Teens are making a difference for our ocean

The Monterey Bay Aquarium strives to have a life-changing impact on the young people who take part in our teen programs—part of our commitment to shape new generations of ocean conservation leaders. It’s the vision behind our new Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership, where we’ll be able to double the participation of teens in these and other programs.

Even before the Center opens in 2019, we’re having an impact on young women and men. They’re already making a difference in the world: as conservation leaders, educators and ocean advocates. Here are some of their stories.

Read more…

Inspiring the teachers who inspire new generations

What can you find in a one-by-one-foot patch of ground? An entire world of information. Just ask Kim Cornfield’s fourth graders. This tiny “quadrat” marked off with sections of PVC pipe, serves as a microcosm of the local environment throughout the year. It’s a great tool for teaching young people about the land, and can even propel students toward bigger things, like devising a campus cleanup initiative—or pursuing a career in the sciences.

By participating in Aquarium Teacher Institutes, educators learn to help their students conduct field research using easy-to-create tools.

Kim, who’s been teaching at the International School of Monterey for seven years, learned about quadrats at a free, week-long Teacher Professional Development Program offered by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s one in a range of programs the Aquarium created to serve teachers from the Monterey Bay region—and beyond. More than 140 instructors participate each year—almost  2,700 since the program’s inception.

For educators, inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards can be invigorating and inspirational. It’s also a lot of hard work. Many teachers say the Aquarium has helped them re-engage and reconnect with students in ways they hadn’t imagined. They return to their classrooms with a new sense of energy and purpose.

Read more…

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!


RW04-449
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…

Marching ahead with ocean conservation science

For nearly 34 years, Monterey Bay Aquarium has harnessed the power of science to guide every aspect of our work—exhibit development, public policy and outreach, sustainable seafood solutions, research and education programs. In 2017, the Aquarium became one of the first 100 partners to support the first March for Science as a way to share our dedication to the scientific process. As the 2018 March for Science ramps up on April 14, we thought we’d revisit some of our greatest moments in marine conservation science over the last year. In these, and many other ways, we’re harnessing the power of science to make our world a better place.

Dynamic tuna dorsal fins

Researchers discovered Pacific bluefin tuna can move their dorsal fins with an internal hydraulic mechanism that aids in fast swimming and quick turns

While observing Pacific bluefin tuna inside the Tuna Research and Conservation Center (TRCC), scientists noticed something…fishy about the way they were swimming. TRCC scientists logged hours of video footage and, after conducting routine medical exams, discovered that the dorsal fins of tunas move both forward and backward as they swim—especially when they hunt for prey in quick flashes of speed. Their work, reported in a cover article published in Science magazine, documented that the team of scientists discovered a hydraulic mechanism that allows a tuna to articulate its dorsal fin along a range of angles depending on which behavior the tuna exhibits.

Sea turtles use flippers like fingers

Sea turtles use their flippers in a multitude of ways to help them capture prey, like this green turtle in the Gulf of Thailand that’s grasping a jelly before it eats. Photo © Rich Carey/Shutterstock.com

When evolution, animal behavior and body form meet in one elegant space, we call it “ecomorphology,” an area of expertise for Aquarium senior research biologist Jessica Fujii, who for years has studied how and why sea otters use tools. But when Jessica and her colleagues observed that sea turtles use their flippers like tools to swipe, slice and corral their food, we might call that “evolutionary serendipity”—something that sea turtles did not necessarily evolve to do, but do anyway. In a recent study published in PeerJ and led by Jessica, we learned that sea turtles use their flippers, largely designed for locomotion, to manipulate their prey. The scientists tapped crowdsourced images and videos from around the world to document turtles prying open scallops and karate-chopping jellyfish, confirming that this ancient marine reptile need not have a frontal cortex to perform such complex maneuvers. Because transparency is a key tenet of scientific inquiry, our team decided to make both the paper and the peer reviews of the paper available free to anyone with internet access.

Museum feathers reveal seabird diet changes

Some of the feathers in the study were from seabirds collected in the 19th century by groups like this 1885 party that landed in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. The specimens are archived at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. Photo courtesy Bishop Museum.

Naturalists hiking around the islands of Hawaii in 1890 could never have guessed that the seabird feathers they collected would someday be used to help tell the story of a changing ocean. But for Aquarium researcher Tyler Gagne, lead author on a new study of how seabird diets have changed over the last 130 years, the feathers played a vital role in reconstructing what seabirds have—and have not—been eating. Using stable isotope analysis, Tyler and his team traced specific chemical signatures found in the preserved seabird feathers to show how, over time, eight different species in the North Pacific have shifted from fish to squid, a transition that suggests both human and climate impacts are influencing their dietary choices.

The data behind sea otter rescues

White shark bites are causing the majority of sea otter deaths at the edges of the otters’ range. Photo courtesy MBAPhoto © Nicole LaRoche, U.S. Geological Survey

For more than 30 years, sea otter researchers and animal care specialists at the Aquarium have been tagging, tracking, rescuing and rehabilitating stranded adult sea otters and pups. The data collected from 725 live strandings between 1984 and 2015 provide an intricate portrait of major threats California sea otters face as their population slowly recovers. Aquarium researchers determined that the absence of significant kelp canopy coverage at the peripheries of the sea otter range, especially in waters north of Santa Cruz and south toward Point Conception, can inhibit sea otters’ ability to reproduce and survive. Without sufficient kelp  cover, sea otters, especially reproductive females and their pups, can be left vulnerable to shark bites.

Young white sharks: the wonder years

Juvenile white shark swims at the surface of Bahia Sebastian Vizcaino. Photo courtesy CICESE.

After years of studying the underwater lives of white sharks, Aquarium researchers and their partners in the United States and Mexico noticed some missing links in the life history of these apex predators. Where do white sharks give birth, and where do their pups grow up? Thanks to a study published in Fisheries Research, scientists discovered that Bahia Sebastián Vizcaino, a warm lagoon on the coast of Baja California, is a nursery for newborn white sharks. This study formalized a de facto understanding that southern California was the place to find young white sharks, but researchers validated a more surprising fact about juvenile white sharks: they don’t stay in Californian waters and they regularly travel to Mexican waters and back again.

These are just a few highlights reflecting the growing scope of ocean science taking place at the Aquarium. We’ll continue to conduct new science every day, to inspire new generations of science-literate citizens, and to use the best-available science to inform everything we do to assure a bright future for our ocean planet.

—Athena Copenhaver

Learn how we use science to support ocean policy, address plastic pollution and climate change, protect marine wildlife and ecosystems, and promote sustainable global fisheries and aquaculture.

Oceans of possibilities for emerging teen leaders

Sometimes, a summer job is just a summer job. And sometimes, it changes your life. Monterey Bay Aquarium strives to have a life-changing impact on the young people who take part in our teen programs—part of our commitment to shape new generations of ocean conservation leaders. It’s the vision that drives creation of our new Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership, where we’ll be able to double the participation in these and other programs.

Even before the Center opens in 2019, we’re having this kind of impact on young women and men. And they are already making a difference in the world: as conservation leaders, educators and ocean advocates. Here are some of their stories.

Gaining skills for future success

Consider Roberto Flores. He was born and raised in Watsonville, in a neighborhood rife with gang violence.

Teen participants in the WATCH program take part in field research studies, and build their public speaking skills when they report out their findings in a local and national forums.

“There were people killed on my street,” says Roberto, who’s now 25. In 2006, when he was a freshman in high school, he had the opportunity to become a Volunteer Guide at the Aquarium, helping guests get the most out of their visits and promoting an understanding of ocean conservation. From there, he became a Teen Conservation Leader, and a participant in Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats (WATCH), an Aquarium initiative with Pajaro Valley high schools.

As he moved from position to position, somehow, the Aquarium and its programs were always there, providing a much-needed lifeline—and offering a little bit of a tailwind to sustain the momentum he’d established by dint of his own drive and enthusiasm.

“I was a shy kid—always the last one to hit the dance floor,” says Roberto. “But after the WATCH program, I became the de facto person to speak in front of other people.” Read more…

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