Conservation & Science

International honors for our conservation commitment

Our 33rd year has been remarkable in many ways, and the last day of the year brought with it a humbling honor. Monterey Bay Aquarium was saluted by colleagues with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), for the depth and scientific rigor of our work to safeguard the health of the ocean.

“This is quite an anniversary present!” Cynthia Vernon told WAZA delegates as she accepted the Conservation Award on behalf of Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“This is quite an anniversary present!” Aquarium Chief Operating Officer Cynthia Vernon told WAZA delegates gathered in Berlin, Germany as she accepted the second-ever Conservation Award presented by the WAZA, an association of 300 member zoos and aquariums from six continents.

A special relationship

“We’ve long recognized that public aquariums enjoy a special relationship with our visitors,” she added. “The people who come through are doors are here to be inspired by remarkable ocean animals, and to share a memorable time with the people they care about. In the face of great and urgent threats to ocean health, we—all of us in the international aquarium community—have more opportunities than ever to make a difference. And we have more responsibility than ever before to use the trust we’ve earned from the public to do all we can on behalf of the ocean.”

We’ve hosted more than 2.5 million students on field trips, and created programs to empower emerging teen conservation leaders. Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium/Tyson Rininger

Monterey Bay Aquarium is driven by our mission, “to inspire conservation of the ocean.” Recognition by our peers is validation of the many ways in which we’ve expanded our vision for what that means—from informing our visitors to educating tomorrow’s ocean leaders. From participating in scientific collaborations to taking policy action and engaging with partners around the globe. We’ve evolved from inspiring ocean conservation to taking action.

We’ve long encouraged other aquariums to step up as ocean advocates.

People expect us to act

“Based on the public’s response to our work, I remain convinced of the value of broadening how we as public aquariums define ourselves,” Executive Director Julie Packard told delegates to the International Aquarium Congress nearly a decade ago. “Aquariums can achieve powerful conservation results through outreach and advocacy, and in fact, the public expects us to do so.  By listening closely to our audiences, we can build more meaningful and lasting relationships with them and, in turn, strengthen our institutions, our field and our conservation impact.”

Our research with sea otters, sharks, Pacific bluefin tuna and other species helps us understand and protect marine life and ecosystems.

We began when our doors opened in 1984, with a commitment to create innovative living exhibits, to conduct field research programs aimed at understanding the ocean’s living systems, and to offer education programs that inspire and shape new generations.

Today, our work encompasses all that and more—including a growing engagement in the ocean policy arena: in our community, in California, across the United States and around the world.

Doing more for the ocean

WAZA, as the voice of a global community of conservation-minded zoos and aquariums, encourages its members to do more to protect wildlife and wild places. In conferring the Conservation Award, it cited the breadth of our work on behalf of ocean protection and in building public awareness of ocean issues.

The Aquarium’s partnerships for sustainable seafood span the globe.

“The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Conservation and Science programs tackle some of the most critical issues affecting ocean health, including pollution, plastic and illegal fishing,” said Dr. Manfred Niekisch of the Frankfurt Zoo, who chairs the WAZA Conservation and Sustainability Committee. “The Aquarium brings decades of expertise and relationships in ocean science, policy and markets to the task, and it’s a trusted source of ocean information to make a difference globally—among policymakers, the business community and with individuals.”

The committee specifically called out our work in support of sustainable global fisheries and aquaculture, and our growing engagement in ocean policy where, he said, we “inspire and inform government decision makers to take science-based action on behalf of ocean health.”

Learn more about our work on behalf of ocean wildlife and ocean health.

The world unites to protect Our Ocean

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Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Our Ocean conference. ©European Union, 2017

Each year, global leaders gather at the Our Ocean conference, pledging meaningful actions to protect the health of the global ocean. This year, on the Mediterranean island of Malta, Monterey Bay Aquarium was at the heart of several key initiatives addressing fisheries, aquaculture and ocean plastic pollution.

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who launched the event in 2014, announced a new partnership between the Aquarium and the Carnegie Endowment for International PeaceThrough the Southeast Asia Fisheries and Aquaculture Initiative, we’ll work with regional governments and seafood producers in Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines to overcome obstacles to sustainable seafood production.

“Sustainable fishing is good for jobs and good for the environment at the same time,” Kerry said. “It’s not a competition between the two.”

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Reeling in a major cause of whale entanglement

Calder Deyerle is on a conference call. But while other participants sit in office chairs, Deyerle is miles out at sea on his 28-foot boat. Freshly caught fish, in a bucket at his feet, are flopping loudly enough to be heard on the call.

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Fisherman Calder Deyerle fishes for rockfish off the Big Sur coast. Photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium/Presley Adamson

During crab season, Deyerle says, he works what feels like 24 hours a day—going home only to shower, eat and see his family. Even when he watches TV, he keeps his hands busy mending gear. Serving on the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, which led to the conference call, is what he calls one of his “extracurricular activities.”

But it serves a practical purpose: preserving a fishery, and a way of life, that’s been in his family for generations. And it’s helping protect one of the ocean’s most magnificent animals, too.

A migration menace

In recent years, crabbing gear has entangled whales, mostly humpbacks, with alarming frequency. In 2016 there were 71 reported entanglements along the U.S. West Coast—the most since the federal government began keeping records in ’82. Twenty-two of those were confirmed to be related to the Dungeness crab fishery.
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‘Historic moment’: Nations act to save Pacific bluefin tuna

Today in Busan, South Korea, Pacific nations came together and agreed, for the first time, to recover the population of Pacific bluefin tuna to a sustainable level.

Bluefin tuna at auction in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market. Japan consumes 90 percent of the world;s catch of bluefin tuna. Photo courtesy Associated Press.

“This is a historic moment for this remarkable species, which is so important to the ocean ecosystem and to coastal communities around the Pacific Rim,” said Margaret Spring, Chief Conservation Officer for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

At the annual meeting of the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission—the body responsible for managing tunas and other highly migratory species across the western Pacific Ocean—international delegates discussed ways to recover the population of Pacific bluefin tuna after years of decline. Ultimately, they took a major step forward by agreeing to recover the population to a sustainable level and establishing a long-term management plan.

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John Kerry: It’s time to act for Pacific bluefin tuna

For John Kerry, saving the ocean is a “life or death” issue. As an ocean champion in Congress, and as Secretary of State, securing a healthy future for the ocean was central to his public service. Now he has joined with conservation leaders and with some of the world’s top chefs in a call for immediate action to recover one of the most valuable—and depleted—fish in the ocean, Pacific bluefin tuna:

John Kerry has been an ocean advocate, in Congress and as Secretary of State.

“Of all the environmental progress achieved in recent years, it is particularly important that the one direct line that so many, from a wide variety of different backgrounds and ideologies, have drawn is between the fate of our oceans and our existence, our economic well-being, and the diversity of human cultures around the world. Whether it’s through the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals or the Our Ocean Conferences, which I founded as Secretary of State, or through groundbreaking work in corporations and philanthropies, together the international community has elevated the centrality of the oceans to our global responsibilities.

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Chefs worldwide speak out to save Pacific bluefin tuna

Leading chefs on five continents have pledged to keep Pacific bluefin tuna off their menus until there’s effective international action to manage the fishery and reverse a precipitous decline in the population.

Chef Alex Atala of Brazil: “We are not living within our means when it comes to Pacific bluefin tuna.”

Nearly 200 prominent chefs and culinary leaders from around the world—including Alex Atala of Brazil, James Beard Award nominee Michael Cimarusti of the United States and Annabel Langbein of New Zealand—say Pacific Rim nations must act immediately to recover Pacific bluefin tuna.

Bluefin tunas are among the planet’s most iconic and prized fish. In recent decades, global demand for Pacific bluefin tuna has driven the population down to a critical level—just 2.6 percent of its historic abundance, significantly lower than those of the two other bluefin tuna species, Atlantic and Southern bluefin tunas, and lower than all other assessed tuna species.

The chef pledge comes as fishing nations charged with securing the future of Pacific bluefin tuna prepare to meet in Busan, South Korea from August 28 to September 1, to craft a new recovery plan in the face of growing international criticism that the current plan falls far short of what’s needed.

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Science shows a path to recover Pacific bluefin tuna

The ruby-red slice of maguro presented on a piece of nigiri sushi does nothing to convey the sheer power of Pacific bluefin tuna. These top ocean predators can grow to be twice the size of lions; at top swimming speed, they’re faster than gazelles. But it’s been a huge challenge to halt the decline of these incredible fish.

Pacific bluefin tuna at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

The Pacific bluefin population is down to just 2.6 percent of its unfished level—yet it continues to face intense fishing pressure. The fish are prized commercially, command staggering market prices, and are difficult to manage because they cross through national and international waters on trans-Pacific migrations.

Monterey Bay Aquarium has long advocated for use of the best available science to inform management decisions that can bring the Pacific bluefin population back to a healthy level. Now researchers at the Aquarium, together with colleagues from Harvard University and the National Museum of National History, have identified new evidence of migration trends that underscore the need for comprehensive fishing restrictions and enforcement across the Pacific—especially in the Western Pacific, where all Pacific bluefin spawn, and where most of the fish are caught.

The source of spawning-age fish

The analysis, published in Science magazine, concludes that—in many years—the majority of spawning-age bluefin tuna in the Western Pacific are migrants who left the waters off Japan when they were just one to two years old, and spent the next four to six years on rich feeding grounds off the coasts of California and Mexico, before returning to the Western Pacific.

New research supports the need to limit fishing for Pacific bluefin tuna — and to enforce the limits — in order to recover the species. Photo courtesy NOAA

If too many of the young fish are caught in the Western Pacific before they can make the migration east, there won’t be enough returning fish years later to maintain or recover the already-depleted population.

And if fishing pressure is too great in the Eastern Pacific, the fish won’t survive to make the migration back to their spawning grounds near Japan.

“These fish were passing through two gauntlets, in the west and in the east, before they had a chance to spawn,” said Dr. Andre Boustany, the Nereus Principal Fisheries Investigator for the Aquarium. “Many fish have to pass through both the Western and Eastern Pacific Ocean. So by taking too many of them out in both locations, we end up with a severely depleted population.

“We need much better management of the fishery in the west, and to continue to at least maintain current management in the east,” he added.
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