Conservation & Science

Safeguarding seamounts: the hidden Yosemites of the deep

At the bottom of the ocean, amid vast, pitch-dark expanses of mud, there are a few exceptional, rocky places: undersea mountains. Here, the muddy seafloor and burrowing worms give way to bedrock and beautiful gardens of corals and sponges.

Seamounts are islands of biological diversity in the deep sea, home to rich marine communities of often long-lived animals. Photo courtesy MBARI/NOAA

Seamounts, as these peaks are known, “are the Yosemites of the deep sea that nobody sees,” says Dr. Jim Barry, a marine ecologist at MBARI—the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. “Under the surface, right off the horizon, is this wonderful world that’s been developing, slowly but surely, like a sequoia forest.”

Some seamounts are covered with ancient corals and deep-sea sponges that stand a meter tall and resemble oak trees. They’re also home to anemones, clams, small crustaceans and all manner of fishes. Many of these creatures rely on smell instead of vision to find food in these inky waters, at least half a mile deep.

Life on seamounts is of interest to marine scientists and to biotech researchers who hope to develop new pharmaceutical products based on properties in sponges, mussels and microbes. Photo courtesy MBARI

Seamounts are a frontier for scientific discovery, both for basic research, designed to fill knowledge gaps, and for applied research aiming to solve practical problems. Biotech companies, for instance, are interested in unique chemicals produced by deep-sea microbes, sponges, and mussels, which hint at pharmaceutical applications from antibiotics to fighting cancer.

Only a few seamounts are legally protected, like national parks are on land. One of those is Davidson Seamount, 80 miles southwest of Monterey and part of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. But the Trump administration is in the process of reviewing Davidson Seamount’s designation, with an eye for potentially stripping its protection and opening it up for new offshore oil and gas drilling. Read more…

We’re a voice for the sea at the first-ever United Nations Ocean Conference

The ocean produces half the oxygen we breathe, regulates climate by absorbing atmospheric carbon, and is the primary source of protein for 3.5 billion people. More than 80 percent of the Earth’s population lives within 60 miles of the coast. But these and other critical benefits are fast eroding as growing human needs strain the ocean’s living systems.

The_Oceans_Conference_Logo_Horiz_ENFrom June 5-9, the United Nations will take on the challenge when it hosts its first Ocean Conference at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City—a global gathering focused on protecting the ocean resources so vital to human survival.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium will play a significant role in the conference, advocating for policies to reduce single-use plastic, new commitments that promote sustainable international fisheries, and concerted action to tackle ocean acidification and other impacts of climate change.

“The ocean plays a vital role in enabling life on Earth to exist, yet ocean health has been ignored for too long by international decision-makers,” says Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. “The U.N. Ocean Conference is a signal that things are changing. We’ll be there as a voice for the living ocean on which our future depends.”

Julie notes that the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean mirrors the priorities that Monterey Bay Aquarium works to advance, in the United States and around the world. Key staff will contribute to Ocean Conference forums on critical issues, including:

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A Monterey Bay fishing boat brings in its catch. Photo ©Steve Kepple

Improving the sustainability of global fisheries

Through our Seafood Watch program and extensive international policy work, the aquarium plays a respected and influential role – among governments, major businesses, producers and consumers – in shifting global seafood production in more sustainable directions.

As the conference begins, Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard will be part of a World Economic Forum announcement and discussion about new commitments from major seafood businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations to end illegal, unregulated and unreported tuna fishing around the world.

On Wednesday, June 7, Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of global fisheries and aquaculture for the Aquarium, will speak on a panel focused on making fisheries sustainable.

Taking action to combat ocean acidification

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Oyster farmers along the U.S. West Coast have already begun to see the impacts of ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification, a result of fossil fuel burning, is making it difficult for marine animals to build their shells. That includes some species of plankton, the base of the ocean food web.

The Aquarium was an early supporter of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, and will represent the founding partners – British Columbia, and the U.S. states of California, Oregon and Washington – on Thursday, June 8.

Margaret Spring, our vice president of conservation and science and chief conservation officer, will speak on a panel addressing ocean acidification action plans to protect vulnerable resources.

Reducing the sources of plastic pollution

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The passage of California’s Proposition 67 will prevent the use of billions of plastic carryout bags each year.

Last year, we championed California’s first-in-the-nation statewide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags. This summer, we’ll launch a collaborative campaign involving 20 leading North American aquariums to reduce consumer demand for single-use plastic products – from drinking straws to shopping bags.

On Monday, June 5, Aimee David, Aquarium Director of Ocean Conservation Policy Strategies, will address efforts to tackle marine debris: internationally, nationally and at United Nations Headquarters. The panel, hosted by Costa Rica, features speakers from the United Nations Environment Programme, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Zoological Society of London.

Celebrating the ocean – in New York and beyond

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Working together, we can protect the health of the ocean for future generations. Photo by ©Jim Capwell / http://www.divecentral.com

On Sunday, June 4, our Seafood Watch team will be part of a day-long World Ocean Festival, a free event on Governors Island in New York Harbor that precedes Monday’s opening of the U.N. Ocean Conference. We’ll host a public exhibit space about sustainable fisheries and aquaculture opportunities, and a Seafood Watch expert will be part of a sustainable seafood presentation during the festival.

And in partnership with the U.N. Environment Program, the International Program on the State of the Ocean, Ocean Conservancy and the Zoological Society of London, we will promote the #OneLess initiative, aimed at inspiring Ocean Conference delegates and the public to reduce single-use plastic products like water bottles. The campaign will distribute reusable water bottles to conference attendees, and will encourage delegates to promote policies that reduce our reliance on single-use plastic products.

World leaders are coming together this week to address the biggest threats to our shared global ocean, but we all have a role to play. You can make a difference through small changes, such as driving less, switching to reusable water bottles and following Seafood Watch recommendations.

We hope you’ll join us in protecting our living ocean, on which all life depends.


Featured image: “United Nations New York City” by Anthony Quintano is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A year of hope for the global ocean

Say what you will about 2016—the world made some big waves to protect the ocean. As the sun sets on this year, let’s reflect on its brightest marine moments:

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The Aquarium and our partners campaigned across the state for Prop 67.

California votes to ban single-use plastic bags

November brought a big ballot win for ocean health. Thanks to voters, California now has the nation’s first law banning single-use plastic carryout bags statewide.

Working with our partners, the Aquarium campaigned in support of Proposition 67, the California ballot measure to uphold the statewide bag ban. We also urged a NO vote on the deceptive Proposition 65, which could have further delayed the ban’s implementation.

Voters agreed, approving Proposition 67 and rejecting Proposition 65. And just like that, single-use plastic carryout bags are now a thing of California’s past. The new law could prevent billions of plastic bags from polluting our ocean each year—which means a cleaner future for marine wildlife and coastal communities.

Read more…

Aquariums come together to tackle plastic pollution

Makana stood on a cart at the front of the room and sized up the crowd. Her caretaker offered a few gestures to make her comfortable, scratching her under the chin and misting her with a spray bottle. Then the Laysan albatross partially opened her glossy dark wings, to appreciative murmurs from the audience.

It was as if she knew this was an especially important crowd to impress.

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Aimee David, director of ocean conservation policy and initiatives, addresses the Aquarium Plastic Pollution Symposium in Monterey.

Watching Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Makana Show” in front of our Kelp Forest Exhibit were more than 100 professionals from aquariums across the U.S. and Canada, along with experts from scientific institutions, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. They were gathered in Monterey for the first-ever Aquarium Plastic Pollution Symposium, which was hosted by Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Over the course of three days, from December 5-7, the group discussed how aquariums can work together to tackle the problem of plastic pollution in our ocean, rivers and lakes.

Read more…

What’s the deal with plastic pollution?

You’re probably hearing a lot about plastic bags and why Californians should vote YES on Prop 67, but the issue is not just about plastic bags. It’s about plastic pollution, and it affects all of us.

For example, did you know that plastic pollution is found in the ocean at every depth, and most marine life can’t escape it? Or that young people are fighting back on this issue—and some of their ideas are wildly successful?

Monterey Bay Aquarium explores this issue in our new podcast series, “Breaking Down:  The Problem with Plastic Pollution.”  The six-part series covers the impacts of plastic pollution—from threats to humans and wildlife to how the issue has energized students and policymakers.

Read more…

New report: We can act locally on ocean acidification

We might not think much about how our air travel affects sea snails, or how our light bulbs link with coral reefs. But on a planet where everything is connected, scientists continue to discover ways in which our carbon dioxide emissions touch life in the ocean.

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A baby octopus swims next to a pteropod, right. Shelled zooplankton like pteropods are especially vulnerable to increasing ocean acidity. Photo: Matt Wilson/Jay Clark, NOAA NMFS AFSC.

On April 4, the California Ocean Science Trust released a report on one of the major impacts: ocean acidification. It occurs when the ocean absorbs some of the carbon pollution we’ve pumped into the air, triggering a chemical reaction that lowers the water’s pH.

Acidic seawater makes it tougher for shelled marine animals to survive. The fragile shells  of tiny sea snails called pteropods, for example, are thinning as the pH level drops. The impacts ripple through the marine food web, affecting many of our favorite seafood species. California aquaculturists have reported that baby oysters are dying off at higher rates because their shells aren’t forming properly.

Acidification is happening across the world’s ocean. But the 20-member West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel, which authored the report, found that the North American West Coast is getting hit especially hard, and particularly soon.

Read more…

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