Conservation & Science

After a jubilant March for Science, we’re marching on for the ocean

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The Aquarium’s Jennifer Matlock (fourth from left) heads up the March for Science Silicon Valley beside Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and others. Photo © Monterey Bay Aquarium / Paul Sakuma

On Earth Day, April 22, people came together in more than 600 cities around the world to stand up for science. And Monterey Bay Aquarium was all-in, standing up for the power of science to protect our shared ocean.

At the Aquarium, to quote Executive Director Julie Packard, “science is in our DNA.” We use research to make discoveries about marine wildlife and ecosystems, to inform ocean conservation policy, and to inspire the next generation of ocean leaders. We believe that evidence-based science can inform decisions that make our world better.

To show our support, Aquarium staff marched for science in cities across the U.S., including Washington DC, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Santa Cruz. We went international too, with staff marching in Brussels and Amsterdam.

Even our resident African penguins joined in with a “March of the Penguins for Science,” waddling through our Kelp Forest gallery while staff—and a Facebook Live audience (now at 2.5 million, and rising)—cheered them on.

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Julie Packard: March for Science – and a livable planet

Executive Director Julie Packard. Photo © Corey Arnold

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.

The Pacific Ocean from space. Photo courtesy NASA.

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.

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We’re lacing up for the March for Science

Try to imagine one morning without science. You’d have no cell phone alarm to wake you up; no clean running water for your shower; no electricity to power your coffee maker. No weather forecast to help you plan your day.

We have science to thank for so many of the benefits of modern life, from our medicines to our food supply to our smartphones. Science also holds the promise of addressing our planet’s most serious environmental challenges. Innovations in renewable energy and clean vehicles can slow the pace of climate change. Rigorous research can better equip us to address the growing problem of plastic pollution in our ocean.

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Scientists with the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program release a rescued sea otter back into the wild.

At Monterey Bay Aquarium, science is at the core of our mission to inspire conservation of the ocean. That’s why we’re one of the first 100 partners in the national March for Science, a series of nearly 500 coordinated events across the United States and around the world on Saturday, April 22. Other partners include the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), American Geophysical Union, Ecological Society of America, Society for Conservation Biology and Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The world is too interconnected, and the issues are too complex, to make decisions without the input of science,” says Kyle Van Houtan, the Aquarium’s science director.

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Aquarist Jennifer O’Quin Anstey checks in on baby seahorses (Hippocampus ingens) in the Aquarium’s lab.

Over the next two weeks, on this blog and through our Twitter and Facebook feeds, we’ll share more about how science contributes to ocean health. We’ll highlight research that’s leading to exciting discoveries about ocean wildlife, and science-based programs transforming the market for sustainable seafood.

We’ll celebrate science education programs that empower young people from diverse backgrounds to become citizen scientists and the ocean conservation leaders of the future. We’ll highlight policy work in support of science-based decision-making, and breakthroughs in deep-sea exploration.

This Earth Day, April 22, the movement will go global as people from all walks of life come together to stand up for science. Advocates in Washington, D.C., will be joined by people at satellite marches on six continents, celebrating science—and their hope for our shared future—with one voice.


Find a March for Science near you.

 

A step backward on U.S. climate leadership

Today, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order to begin dismantling the Clean Power Plan and other critical federal policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions that drive global climate change.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard expressed dismay over the executive order, which undermines U.S. leadership in fighting climate change—the greatest environmental challenge of our time.

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Scientists are studying the impacts of climate change across the global ocean, including in the kelp forests of Monterey Bay.

“The executive order rolls back existing federal policies that are critical to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, promoting clean-energy solutions and protecting our ocean, the heart of the planet’s climate system,” she says. “Now is the time to speed up, not reverse, the progress we’ve made in these areas.”

The issue is a priority for Monterey Bay Aquarium because climate change and ocean acidification affect ocean health—and our own survival—in profound ways.

Carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels causes Earth’s atmosphere to thicken, trapping more heat on our planet. The ocean absorbs at least 80 percent of this extra heat, warming the sea’s surface and setting off a cascade of impacts including sea-level rise, stronger storms, shrinking sea ice, coral bleaching and shifting ranges in which marine life can survive.

Carbon emissions also trigger a chemical reaction in the ocean, lowering its pH. More acidic seawater makes survival more challenging for marine life with calcium carbonate shells. The impacts ripple through ocean ecosystems, which produce oxygen and food that sustain life on Earth.

The Aquarium supports urgent, science-based action to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, promote clean-energy solutions and protect ocean health.

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Shelled zooplankton like this pteropod are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification, a result of rising carbon emissions.

“Monterey Bay Aquarium will continue to advocate for science-based public policies to reduce the emission of heat-trapping gases and promote U.S. leadership in addressing the grave threats to society posed by climate change. We urge the U.S. to honor its commitments under the Paris Agreement,” Julie says.

“We are proud of the significant steps the state of California is taking to accelerate climate solutions and grow a clean-energy economy. We will continue to work with leaders in California, and other states and nations, to advance global climate action that is grounded in science.”

You can join us in the movement toward cleaner fuels and a healthier ocean. Urge your elected officials to defend America’s climate progress and remain a global leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


Learn more about the links between carbon emissions and ocean health—and how you can make a difference—on our Climate Action for the Ocean webpage.

Featured photo: “Energy” by Rich is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 and was cropped for this use.

Celebrating California’s global conservation leadership

March 14 was more than Pi Day. In Sacramento, it was also Ocean Day California. And while pi—the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter—is delightfully infinite, we know that the ocean’s resources are not.

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Julie Packard addresses attendees of the 2017 Ocean Day California reception in Sacramento.

That’s why hundreds of advocates and educators came together in the state’s capital to celebrate ocean and coastal health. Through meetings with legislators, staff and colleagues, they worked to raise awareness of the critical role our ocean plays in sustaining life on Earth.

In the evening, for the eighth year, Monterey Bay Aquarium hosted a reception for almost 250 state legislators, government officials and ocean leaders—people dedicated to conserving the health and vitality of our state’s blue treasures.

Our guests enjoyed dishes featuring California seafood rated “Best Choice” by the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. (Check out our Seafood Watch blog for more on the incredible dishes, from rainbow trout sushi to house-smoked sablefish—and the people who produced and prepared them.)

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Thai coconut curry trout at the Ocean Day reception. Every seafood item served was a California-sourced Seafood Watch “Best Choice.”

Julie Packard, our executive director, thanked the attending officials and advocates for helping make California both an environmental leader and an economic powerhouse.

“We have one of the world’s most incredible natural coastlines, thriving coastal communities and a rich diversity of marine wildlife because of the work of the people in this room,” she said.

“Our commitment to conservation should be stronger than ever. We support California leaders in their commitment to both safeguard what we’ve accomplished to date, and at the same time, forge ahead on the conservation policy, management and investment California is known for across the globe.”

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Julie Packard: It’s time to invest in the ocean

Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard is a member of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a bipartisan organization of ocean leaders that makes policy recommendations to support continued U.S. leadership in protection of ocean resources. She offers her thoughts on the Initiative’s 2017 Ocean Action Agenda, which was released on March 7.

Executive Director Julie Packard (Photo © Corey Arnold)

The health of Earth’s vast ocean system will determine the future prosperity of the human species—and our very survival. Today it’s more urgent than ever for us to invest in the living ocean. That’s why the Aquarium has made it a priority to advance policies here and abroad that will protect critical ocean resources.

Through Seafood Watch and other initiatives, we’re a global leader in the sustainable seafood movement. We’re working with the U.S. government to end illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, and to provide more transparency in global supply chains to assure that seafood comes from well-managed sources.

We’re bringing sound science to international forums that address big challenges like climate change and ocean acidification. We’re advocating for action on many fronts to advance ocean health and to ensure that the world community manages our ocean in ways that preserve its productivity, now and into the future.

Clouds of reef fish thrive amid healthy corals in the protected waters of French Frigate Shoals, in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The good news is: In the United States, we have a solid record of progress and, now, an updated roadmap for the future. The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative on which I serve—a bipartisan group of senior ocean leaders from industry, academia and civil society, as well as former senior government officials—has just released its 2017 Ocean Action Agenda, with priorities based on practical experience and success stories. Read more…

A last-ditch effort to save the vaquita

Spotting a vaquita in the northern Gulf of California is a bit like glimpsing a snow leopard in the Himalayas. Some local fishermen told a reporter they’ve never seen a vaquita—and doubt they even exist.

One day soon, they might be right. But not if a coalition of experts, working with the Mexican government, can help it.

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Vaquita observers use binoculars capable of spotting vaquitas almost 2 miles away. Photo by NOAA Fisheries/Barbara Taylor

Barbara Taylor is one of the few people who’s seen a vaquita—hundreds of them, she says, in her 20 years doing population surveys. As a conservation biologist and a long-time member of the vaquita recovery team, Barbara has the training, and the powerful binoculars, to locate the small porpoises.

When vaquitas surface to breathe, they do it subtly and disappear quickly; and they tend to keep their distance from boats. “They are almost impossible to see from a little panga on the water,” she says.

But there’s another reason few people have encountered vaquitas: They’re the most highly endangered marine mammal species on Earth. These shy, small porpoises were only discovered in the 1950s. The population dropped from an estimated 567, when Barbara’s team first surveyed them in the late 1990s, to fewer than 60 last year. (UPDATE: According to a report published Feb. 1, the population is now estimated at only 30 individuals.)

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