Conservation & Science

Champion of a plastic-free ocean earns Paul Walker Youth Award

We’ve proudly shared the story of Shelby O’Neil, a Teen Conservation Leader at the Monterey Bay Aquarium who’s been making a huge different in the campaign to reduce ocean plastic pollution.

Shelby O’Neil receives the Paul Walker Youth Award from Brandon Birtell of the Paul Walker Foundation and Aquarium Chief Operating Officer Cynthia Vernon.

She’s been recognized many times for her work, including as a guest speaker at Dreamforce and at Ocean Heroes panel during the Global Climate Action Summit. She’s one of the first class of Ocean Heroes recognized by the Aquarium, and earned a Girl Scout Gold Award for her work to raise awareness about the problem of single-use plastic – notably plastic straws.

Now 17 and a senior at San Benito High School, she’s the 2018 recipient of the Paul Walker Youth Award, presented to young people who share the late actor’s love of the ocean and his commitment to take an active role in safeguarding ocean health. Through the Paul Walker Foundation created by Paul’s daughter Meadow, Shelby will receive a college scholarship to support her studies, so she can contribute in new ways to ocean and conservation initiatives.

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Partnership for a plastic-free ocean

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Singer-songwriter Jack Johnson supported the Aquarium’s campaign to pass Proposition 67.

The votes are (mostly) tallied. The 2016 General Election was surely one for the history books—in many ways.

In California, voters confronted one of the longest ballots in the state’s history, with 17 ballot measures. The last of those measures, Proposition 67, was a referendum on a statewide ban on single-use carryout plastic bags. A majority of California voters needed to vote YES to uphold that first-in-the-nation law.

And you did!

The Aquarium and our partners invested incredible time, energy and other resources to help win this ballot fight. Many officials, commissions, editorial boards, conservation groups, entertainers and other supporters also endorsed the measure.

Our visitors and online followers chatted about it on our social media platforms. Our neighbors and friends provided encouragement and helped spread the word. Countless people wore our buttons, carried our signs, and joined the movement in one way or another.

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Natalia Hurley of Monterey Bay Aquarium supports reusable bags.

We want to take a moment to say thanks.

Through our collective work, we were able to make all the difference.

The opponents represented a handful of out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers who poured more than $6 million into defeating California’s historic law. In stark contrast, YES on 67 supporters included an extensive and diverse group of people and organizations that have California’s best interests in mind—and at heart.

We’d like to thank those organizations and individuals with whom the Aquarium worked most closely in the campaign to pass Prop 67. (This is not a comprehensive list.)

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Restoring eelgrass for climate resilience

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State Senator Bill Monning, left, recipient of the 2016 California Ocean Champion Award, speaks at the Ocean Day reception hosted by Monterey Bay Aquarium.

California is forging the path forward on climate leadership. This year, state leaders have made significant progress on policies to reduce our emissions of heat-trapping gases and mitigate the impact of changes already in motion.

Today’s post comes from California Senator Bill Monning, the State Senate Majority Leader. Sen. Monning is the author of SB 1363, an important piece of climate legislation which the Monterey Bay Aquarium supported, and which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law this year. In today’s guest post, Sen. Monning shares his thoughts on how restoring California’s eelgrass habitat can improve the resilience of our coast in the face of climate change.


This past August, the California Legislature adjourned the 2015-2-16 Legislative Session, and once again we passed several bills that tackle the dire issue of climate change.

We extended the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets through 2030, committed state resources to clean up abandoned fishing and crabbing gear that entangles whales off the California coast, and passed Senate Bill (SB) 1363, which I authored, to restore eelgrass habitat and mitigate the impact of carbon dioxide on our atmosphere and ocean.

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Tiny animals called pteropods are among the marine creatures at risk in an acidifying ocean.

SB 1363 requires the Ocean Protection Council (OPC), in coordination with the State Coastal Conservancy, to establish and administer the Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Reduction Program. This measure was introduced in response to the April 2016 report by the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel and the Ocean Science Trust, in collaboration with the OPC.

The panel’s science-based report tells us that ocean acidification is a global issue, and that California’s coast will experience some of the most severe and earliest changes in ocean carbon chemistry. However, the report also tells us that we can take steps to support ocean and coastal resilience in the face of these changes. One recommendation to help reverse the impacts of ocean acidification is the reestablishment of seagrasses, including eelgrass, along California’s coast.

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A toast to the coast

Today is Ocean Day, when Monterey Bay Aquarium joins other ocean advocates in Sacramento for a day-long celebration of ocean and coastal health.

We'll bring a message about protecting ocean to the State Capitol for Ocean Day 2016. Photo © Steven Pavlov
We’ll bring a message about protecting ocean health to the State Capitol for Ocean Day 2016. Photo © Steven Pavlov

For the seventh year, the Aquarium is hosting a reception for nearly 200 state legislators, government officials, business executives and ocean advocates—people dedicated to conserving the health and vitality of our state’s ocean and coast.

They’ll enjoy sustainable California seafood rated “Best Choice” by our Seafood Watch program and fine wines from California’s coastal communities. We’ll also present awards to some of California’s strongest ocean champions, honoring the actions they took in 2015 to advance ocean and coastal health.

We have so much to celebrate here in California, thanks to forward-thinking decisions and policies that have made our state a global model for ocean conservation and thriving coastal communities.

Now more than ever, we need to build on our progress and continue to lead by example. This means ensuring we have strong, conservation-minded leaders for agencies like the California Coastal Commission and the Fish and Game Commission.

Three state legislators will receive our California Ocean Champion Award for 2016:

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