Conservation & Science

A time machine to understand ocean health

For scientists seeking to understand how the ocean is changing, perhaps the ideal research instrument would be a time machine. Absent such technology, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been working to create the next best thing. It’s a new facility called the Ocean Memory Laboratory.

The white-tailed tropic bird was one of eight species from the North Pacific included in the Ocean Memory Lab study. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For the lab’s inaugural project, researchers have put together a dataset of the feeding habits of eight species of seabirds over the span of almost 130 years. They analyzed archived feathers dating as far back as 1890, using a technique called compound-specific stable isotope analysis, to better understand how the birds’ diets shifted in response to factors ranging from competition with humans to the changing climate.

“In the grand scheme of things, in our field of science, even 10 years of data is encouraging,” says Tyler Gagne, an assistant research scientist at the Aquarium and lead author of the new study, published February 14 in Science Advances. “This is a 130-year-long dataset, which is really amazing.”

Data, data everywhere

The study exemplifies the promise of the Ocean Memory Lab—the brainchild of Aquarium science director Dr. Kyle Van Houtan, who co-authored the publication together with two colleagues based in Hawaii, Dr. David Hyrenbach of Hawaii Pacific University and Molly E. Hagemann of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

Dr. Kyle Van Houtan conceived the Ocean Memory Lab as a way to learn about past ocean conditions and inform current conservation policy.

Identifying novel sources of long-term data is at the heart of the lab’s mission, Kyle says, because conservation projects often lack an informed baseline of ecosystem health to compare against.

“What are the conservation targets? What are we managing for? How do we know when we’re done?” he asks. “We often don’t have enough data or a sufficiently long-term record to provide informed answers to those questions.”

The solution, as Kyle sees it, may lie within the creatures themselves—or more precisely, in the chemistry of their tissues, which can record what they were eating, as well as clues about the surrounding ocean. Read more…

Shining a light on seafood slavery

Imagine you’re a young father, from Myanmar, who has come to Thailand to find work as a fisherman and support your family. Once aboard ship, your time at sea stretches to weeks, months, or even a year. You find yourself working 20 hours a day, at one of the world’s most dangerous occupations. You sleep in unsanitary quarters, and are subject to violence and intimidation.

The risk tool can help businesses engage with suppliers to eliminate slavery from their supply chains.

But your biggest surprise occurs when the boat finally docks: You are kept in locked quarters, and not allowed to come ashore. The captain has taken your passport and keeps much of your wages.

Seafood slavery is real, and occurring in many parts of the globe. And the byproducts of this underworld economy—shrimp, crab, snapper and other popular seafood items—can make their way to dinner tables in the United States.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program wants to help businesses keep slavery out of their seafood supply, and improve conditions for people who are—literally—slaving to produce the world’s seafood. In coordination with Liberty Asia and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, it just released an online tool so major seafood buyers—retailers, foodservice companies and restaurant chains—can identify the risk of forced labor, human trafficking or hazardous child labor in the seafood they purchase. Read more…

Fish carbon-era: How our fossil fuel habit is changing the future of seafood

Jim Barry and deep-sea urchin
MBARI researcher Jim Barry handles a sea urchin in his lab. Photo © 2009 MBARI / Todd Walsh

In the early days of ocean acidification research, experiments were simple, says benthic ecologist Jim Barry. Some involved plopping fish into containers of high-carbon seawater. This sort of lab test allowed researchers to observe animals’ physiological responses to our ocean’s changing chemistry.

These days, many studies attempt to address the more difficult question of how acidification and ocean warming might affect interconnected marine species. “What you can’t learn from tests of fish in a jar,” Barry says, “is how climate change affects the way energy moves through a food web.”

That line of inquiry may start in the pages of scientific journals, but it leads somewhere more intimate: our dinner plates.

Read more…

Japan sets its sights on sustainable seafood and 2020 Olympics

Japan, one of the world’s largest consumers of seafood, is moving to embrace sustainable practices for fishing and aquaculture in advance of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Monterey Bay Aquarium Chief Conservation Officer Margaret Spring was invited last month to speak with Japanese business leaders about the growing global movement toward seafood sustainability. Here are her impressions from her trip.

Chief Conservation Officer Margaret Spring was the keynote speaker for the sustainable seafood conference in Tokyo.

I recently returned from the 3rd annual Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Symposium hosted by Nikkei Ecology and co-hosted by Seafood Legacy. I was honored to be asked to keynote the event and eager to learn about progress in this seafood-loving nation as global awareness grows for addressing ocean conservation and sustainable use of marine resources.

In 2016 the United Nations adopted a new sustainable development goal specifically for the ocean, and earlier this year hosted a first-ever global conference dedicated to ocean. At that conference, nations endorsed an ambitious target of ending overfishing and illegal fishing by 2020, the same year that Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics. In August, just after the UN Ocean Conference, the fishing nations of the Pacific, with full support of Japan, agreed to set harvest limits to bring Pacific bluefin tuna back from its currently depleted state. And last year, Japan ratified the global enforcement treaty, the Port State Measures Agreement. I was hopeful. Read more…

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.

Read more…

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.”

Read more…

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.

Calder_boat
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.
Read more…

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