The changing map of life on Earth

Life is found across the planet, including in some pretty inhospitable places. Plants and animals have adapted and thrive everywhere from icy Antarctica to the Sonoran desert; from deep-sea hydrothermal vents to freshwater lakes and temperate woodlands.

Some regions, known as biodiversity hotspots, support incredible numbers and varieties of living things. Tropical rain forests and coral reefs are among the most productive and diverse places for life on Earth, and yet face unprecedented threats to their survival.

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Scientists accounted for almost 11,000 fish species, along with tens of thousands of arthropods, cnidarians, worms and other animals, in a map of Earth’s biodiversity. Photo courtesy NOAA.

But what factors make some places species-rich? What ecological influences are most critical to sustaining varied and abundant life? And how will the accelerating impacts of human-driven climate change affect species and the places that support them?

Scientists now have an answer — one that will help inform efforts to preserve biodiversity and protect critical habitats as climate change continues to disrupt ecosystems across the planet.

Continue reading The changing map of life on Earth

Julie Packard: Honoring Bill Gates for his work to protect our planet, improve the human condition

The David Packard Award honors business leaders who work to make the planet more sustainable.

Since 2014, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has periodically honored leaders whose activities and achievements embody the qualities of thought and action that my father, David Packard, held dear. These individuals have effectively worked to make the future of our planet surer and more sustainable.

This year, we recognized visionary Microsoft co-founder and philanthropic innovator Bill Gates. Bill has done so much to improve the human condition—by harnessing technology to advance social good, and by launching bold philanthropic initiatives to make lives better around the world and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy, productive life.

We honored Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates for his work, as a business leader and a philanthropist, to improve the human condition.

We paid tribute to the scope and the focus of Bill’s thinking and his commitment to using science and technology to improve the future for the people on our planet. It’s a conviction he shares with my father. Because of the extraordinary success of Microsoft, the Gates Foundation has had the resources to tackle some of the largest problems confronting the world, and Bill and Melinda’s vision and strategic approach are yielding extraordinary results.

Our 300 guests at the award dinner—representing Silicon Valley’s most iconic technology company leaders, along with global ocean conservationists and philanthropists—heard from Bill and our award dinner chair, Meg Whitman, during an engaging “fireside chat”. They covered topics from the role technology can play in environmental conservation, to new approaches philanthropy can bring to pressing global challenges, and the importance of optimism. Continue reading Julie Packard: Honoring Bill Gates for his work to protect our planet, improve the human condition

SOS for South African penguins

Aviculture Curator Aimee Greenebaum worked with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s African penguins for more than a decade before ever seeing one in the wild. She was in South Africa last fall to help rehabilitate sick and injured penguins and feed starving chicks. She’s quick to point out that it’s less glamorous than it sounds.

Aviculture Curator Aimee Greenebaum spent long days force-feeding fish to rescued penguins. Photo by Richard Kruger.

“They don’t smell good, I’m not gonna lie,” Aimee says with a laugh. But, she adds, “They’re pretty cool. They’re tough little birds.”

Aimee worked for several weeks with the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB)—the leading conservation organization working to recover this endangered species. African penguins, which stand around two feet tall, don’t hail from the land of snow. The weather at the southern tip of the continent is a lot like Monterey, Aimee says.

Up to 80 rescued penguins per pen awaited a meal from volunteers like Aviculture Curator Aimee Greenebaum. Photo by Richard Kruger

She spent hours each day hunched on a stool, in pens that held 70 or 80 rescued penguins, corralling one bird at a time between her knees. Many required force-feeding.

“These are wild penguins,” she explains. “Our penguins on exhibit know to take fish from our hand. Wild birds aren’t going to do that.” Continue reading SOS for South African penguins

Scientists seek global commitment to end human rights abuses in seafood trade

As the first United Nations Ocean Conference prepares to open next week in New York, a new research paper calls on marine scientists around the world to focus on social issues such as human rights violations in the seafood industry. The initiative is the first integrated approach to meeting this global challenge and includes an official commitment to social responsibility in global fisheries and aquaculture that will be unveiled both at the U.N. Ocean Conference and at the Seafood Summit in Seattle.

Reports by the Associated Press and other media outlets detailed problems with slavery in seafood production. Credit: Associated Press/Gemunu Amarasinghe

Both the paper and the commitment are the result of a yearlong collaboration initiated by Conservation International, finalized earlier this year in Monterey when Monterey Bay Aquarium convened key seafood and human rights NGOs. Their discussions of human trafficking, forced labor, fair wages, working conditions and basic human rights led to a new vision of social responsibility in the seafood sector. The resulting “Monterey Framework” establishes an agenda to change current practices in ways that benefit workers and the environment.

An enslaved Burmese fisherman, whose story was told in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series from the Associated Press. Credit: Associated Press/Dita Alangkara

The social responsibility article, published on June 1 in the journal Science, is in direct response to investigative reports by the Associated Press, the Guardian, the New York Times and other media outlets that uncovered glaring human rights violations on fishing vessels. The investigations tracked the widespread use of slave labor in Southeast Asia and its role in bringing seafood to American restaurants and supermarkets, and chronicled the plight of fishermen tricked and trapped into working 22-hour days, often without pay and while enduring abuse.

Subsequent investigations have documented the global extent of these abuses in a wide array of countries.

“The scientific community has not kept pace with concerns for social issues in the seafood sector,” says Jack Kittinger, senior director of global fisheries and aquaculture for Conservation International. “The purpose of this initiative is to ensure that governments, businesses, and nonprofits are working together to improve human rights, equality and food and livelihood security. This is a holistic and comprehensive approach that establishes a global standard to address these social challenges.”

Shrimp are left on an abandoned peeling table after a raid in Thailand connected with seafood slavery investigations. Credit: Associated Press/Dita Alangkara

As part of the initiative, Conservation International, in collaboration with the Aquarium and other partners, has organized a voluntary commitment, calling on governments, NGOs, businesses and other organizations to improve social responsibility in the seafood sector.

The paper identifies three key principles that together establish a global standard for social responsibility in the seafood sector:  protecting human rights, dignity and respecting access to resources; ensuring equality and equitable opportunities to benefit; and improving food and livelihood security.

Seafood is the world’s most internationally traded food commodity. By 2030, the ocean will need to supply more than 150 million metric tons of seafood to meet the demands of a growing human population. The paper calls on governments, businesses and the scientific community to take measurable steps to ensure seafood is sourced without harm to the environment and people that work in the seafood industry.

Learn more about Monterey Bay Aquarium’s work on seafood and social justice.

Shaping new generations of science-literate citizens

Society’s success in solving the environmental challenges of the 21st century will depend on our ability to give young people the knowledge, skills and motivation to create effective solutions for the future. At the core of this challenge is a critical need: solving a crisis in science and environmental education. At school, teachers struggle to meet the needs of students from diverse cultures, at a time when there’s a declining focus on science learning. At home, kids spend less time outdoors in nature, meaning fewer opportunities  to connect with the wild world in ways that nurture a caring attitude toward the environment.

The Aquarium plays a powerful role  in meeting the needs that schools can’t provide – and we’re working to have a larger, more sustained impact through science-based programs tailored to serve kids from preschool through high school, and their teachers.  Here’s a deeper dive into some of the ways we’re making a difference, from staff educator Claudia Pineda Tibbs.

Connecting with marine life at the Touch Pools is a field trip highlight or many students.

When you walk through the doors of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, you can’t help but notice the smiles on the faces of students as they rush from one exhibit to the next. The sea spray isn’t the only thing in the air. As you navigate the galleries, you can feel the buzz of excitement as elementary school students squeal in delight after touching obscure invertebrates like the gumboot chiton.

Since 1984, the Aquarium has hosted more than 2.3 million schoolchildren – free of charge – through our School Field Trip Programs, and we’re committed to facilitating a range of learning experiences so students can discover the wonders of Monterey Bay as they make sense of their role in the natural world.

Within and beyond our walls, our dedicated staff educators work to expose middle and high school students to marine-related careers, introduce ocean-friendly choices into their lives, and help them conduct community-based conservation projects. Continue reading Shaping new generations of science-literate citizens

March for Science signs that you can download and print!

Are you joining the March for Science on April 22nd (Earth Day) but still haven’t found the perfect sign design? We’ve whipped up a few different options that you can print out and march with!

Two different sizes:

Click to download letter-size signs: MBA-MFS-Posters-USLetter

Click to download 20×30-inch-size signs: MBA-MFS-posters-20×30

Four different designs:


Visiting the Canadian cousins of Monterey Bay’s sea otters

Since 1984, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program team has worked to understand and protect southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis). The population has slowly recovered from near-extinction in the early 1900s to become an icon of California’s Central Coast. Northern sea otters (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) have a similar story on the Southwest Canadian Coast: After going locally extinct in the early 1900s, they’ve been reintroduced and are expanding their range.

 Today, the Hakai Institute is studying how the presence of sea otters is changing kelp forest ecosystems in a marine protected area along the British Columbia coast. This summer, Aquarium Sea Otter Research Coordinator Michelle Staedler and Senior Research Biologist Jessica Fujii traveled to Calvert Island to help monitor northern sea otters. Michelle shares her insights from the expedition.

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Calvert Island and the Hakai Institute field station. Photo by Grant Callegari

The pilot banked the small plane, flying up a narrow waterway at the upper end of Calvert Island. Jessica and I saw below us a floating dock, several boats and red-roofed buildings nestled among the trees. This would be our home base for the next two and a half weeks.

Our destination: Hakai Institute’s Calvert Island Field Station, a coastal research facility 400 miles a northwest of Seattle. The only way to the island is by boat or float plane, weather permitting—but the frequent fog and storms don’t always cooperate.

Winter Sea Otter Research on the West Coast of Canada from Hakai on Vimeo.

Continue reading Visiting the Canadian cousins of Monterey Bay’s sea otters

The CO2 A-list: 10 celebrities calling for climate action

Delegates at the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, or COP21, have spent the past two weeks negotiating an international agreement to slow the pace of climate change, which threatens the health of the global ocean– and our survival. With just one day left before the conference closes, we shine a spotlight on these Hollywood climate activists.

1. Don Cheadle, a global ambassador in the United Nations Environment Programme, participated in a U.N. campaign to raise public awareness of climate change. He’s also a correspondent for Years of Living Dangerously, a new National Geographic Channel series about climate change.

“I hope to use my celebrity to motivate people and contribute to moving our global society back from the brink,” Cheadle says. “What is more important than food and clean air? We need a big push.”

Continue reading The CO2 A-list: 10 celebrities calling for climate action

Another climate change video?!

We know, you’ve probably watched a few of these already. But with the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change in full swing, we wanted to share with you a bit about how the ocean is affected by climate change, and why we’re following what’s going on at the COP21 conference so closely.

Hint: If you get through this video, you will be rewarded with cuteness.



A productive week in Paris

From Nov. 30-Dec. 11, leaders from more than 190 nations are gathering in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, or COP21. The conference aims to achieve a binding international agreement to slow the pace of climate change. If we as a global community take bold and meaningful action in Paris, we can change course and leave our heirs a better world. Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to raise public awareness about the serious ways our carbon emissions affect ocean health, including ocean acidification, warming sea waters and other impacts on marine life. Today, we take a look at the highlights of COP21’s first week.

On the Sunday before COP21, more than 20,000 empty pairs of shoes — including, reportedly, those of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Pope Francis — filled the Place de la République in Paris in a symbolic call for a strong climate accord. (French officials banned a planned climate march in the wake of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks.)

That same weekend, an estimated 800,000 people took to the streets of more than 175 countries for the Global Climate March, organized by a coalition of environmental groups in anticipation of COP21. Their collective message, as described by “Keep fossil fuels in the ground and finance a just transition to 100-percent renewable energy by 2050.”

Continue reading A productive week in Paris