The feel-good science behind sea otter surrogacy

Surrogate-reared otter released into Elkhorn Slough by Monterey Bay Aquarium
A new study reveals the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program bolsters the local otter population. Here, a surrogate-reared otter leaps into Elkhorn Slough on California’s central coast.

Ask not (only) what you can do for sea otters, but what sea otters can do for California.

That’s one of the thoughts on the minds of Aquarium scientists in the wake of a new study, which confirms the power of sea otters to restore coastal ecosystems.

Since 2002, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has reared rescued sea otter pups for release to the wild. Female otters in our exhibit serve as their “surrogate mothers,” teaching them critical life skills like how to groom themselves and forage. The hope is that when the pups are released in Elkhorn Slough, a wetland 20 miles north of the Aquarium, they’ll be able to thrive on their own.

A newly published study confirms that these surrogate-reared pups are surviving as well as their wild kin—and the resulting bump in the otter population at Elkhorn Slough is helping to restore the estuary ecosystem.

The remarkable success of the Aquarium’s program, documented in Oryx, highlights a tremendous opportunity: to help sea otters contribute to the revival of other coastal estuaries along the California coast. Continue reading The feel-good science behind sea otter surrogacy

California steps up its climate leadership

The week of September 10, people from around the world are gathering in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit. Convened by the State of California, the Summit brings together leaders—representing nations, states, cities, companies, investors and citizens—to celebrate climate action, and step up their ambitions to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement. Ken Alex, senior policy advisor to Governor Jerry Brown, reflects on  California’s leadership at this pivotal moment.

Ken Alex 015 cropped
Ken Alex is senior policy advisor to Governor Jerry Brown, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and chair of the Strategic Growth Council.

I grew up in Southern California, and spent lots of time at Seal Beach, Sunset, Huntington, and Bolsa Chica. Those beaches were a central part of my childhood. Today, scientists say they may be gone within 80 years.

Just last month, the state of California issued its most recent evaluation of climate change impact, California’s Fourth Assessment. The report states that as many as two-thirds of Southern California beaches could completely erode by 2100 without large-scale human interventions. By 2050, just 32 years from now, an estimated $17.9 billion worth of residential and commercial buildings across the state could be inundated by sea-level rise.

We already know the impact of fires, heat and drought, exacerbated by climate change, on our state. Climate change is real. It is dramatic. It impacts all of us. Fortunately, action is at hand—and more is on the way. Continue reading California steps up its climate leadership

The world is taking climate action at COP23

wsi-imageoptim-cop23The ocean is about to take center stage at the United Nations’ annual climate change conference in Bonn, Germany. November 11 is officially Oceans Action Day at COP23, when leaders of government, businesses and organizations around the world turn their attention to the sea that covers more than 70% of our planet.

Speakers at the international gathering will discuss how carbon emissions from human activities are changing the world’s ocean (and not for the good)—including impacts on marine wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture, and coastal communities. They’ll also explore science-based solutions, such as ramped-up development of renewable energy and ecosystem-based adaptation to the changes already underway.

Ocean Action Day includes a program at the U.S. Climate Action Center—the largest pavilion at the climate talks. Michael Bloomberg (the former mayor of New York City and a U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change) and California Gov. Jerry Brown will release a new “America’s Pledge” report detailing what U.S. states, cities, and businesses are doing to keep the U.S. on track to meet its Paris Agreement carbon reduction goals. They will be joined by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Laura Phillips, Senior VP of Sustainability for Walmart, to discuss specific actions to meet the emission targets established under the Paris Agreement.

Bikes lined up outside COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photo by UNClimateAction via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


The day will conclude with a signing ceremony for the “Because the Ocean Declaration,” an effort led by Chile, urging nations of the world to protect the ocean as they map paths toward implementing the breakthrough Paris Agreement—the commitment, adopted two years ago by nearly every nation in the world, to reduce our emissions of heat-trapping gases. The island nation of Fiji is also leading a collaborative effort, called the Ocean Pathway Partnership, to give the ocean the prominent place it deserves in the U.N.’s ongoing climate conversations.

Continue reading The world is taking climate action at COP23

Honoring Congressman Sam Farr’s ocean legacy

A surfbird hunts for prey in a Monterey Bay tide pool.

As a kid in the 1940s, Sam Farr used to frequent the tide pools on Carmel Beach, exploring and playing with the multitude of colorful creatures that lived there. But when he returned as an adult with his young daughter in tow, the tide pools weren’t quite how he remembered them.

“Not a single animal was there,” he recalls. “Not a sea urchin, not a sea anemone, not a hermit crab.”

The experience added to Farr’s already deep-seated belief that ocean health is crucial to the well-being of our planet and ourselves. First as a California State Assemblyman from 1980-1993, and then as a U.S. Congressman from 1993 to the present, he acted on that belief by creating state and federal legislation to protect our ocean and coast, and to support ocean research along Monterey Bay.

Now, after more than 40 years of public service, Farr is returning from Washington, D.C. to his home in Carmel, California to, in his words, “become a full-time grandfather” to his daughter Jessica’s children, Ella and Zachary.

On Dec. 1, 2016, Monterey Bay Aquarium honored Sam Farr’s lifelong contributions to ocean conservation at a reception for community leaders and philanthropists.

Continue reading Honoring Congressman Sam Farr’s ocean legacy

California votes YES on Prop 67 for a plastic-free ocean

Thanks to your support, California voters have passed Proposition 67, upholding the first-in-the-nation law to ban single-use carryout plastic bags statewide.

California’s bag ban would have gone into effect in July 2015—but instead, out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers forced it to a vote. The plastic bag industry pumped millions of dollars into their effort to defeat Prop 67, outspending supporters almost 2-to-1.

Aquarium California Ocean Policy Manager Letise LaFeir, at right, stumps for Prop 67 with our partners.

Fortunately, the majority of Californians voted YES for a plastic-free ocean. The state’s voters have also rejected Proposition 65—a deceptive measure placed on the ballot by the same plastic bag manufacturers who forced the referendum.

Finally, our state bag ban can kick into gear and serve as a model for the rest of the nation. The ban will go into immediate effect once the Secretary of State certifies the final election results in December.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium supported Prop 67 and opposed Prop 65. 

Continue reading California votes YES on Prop 67 for a plastic-free ocean

A landmark year for California’s climate leadership

It’s an uncertain time for our ocean.

The impacts of climate change aren’t always apparent on California’s scenic coastline. Photo by Robert Schwemmer, CINMS, NOAA

Sea levels are rising. Storms are intensifying. Seawater is becoming more acidic, and large areas of the ocean are losing oxygen. The global “conveyor belt” of ocean currents may be slowing, and many marine species are moving toward the poles.

These changes—caused by the heat-trapping gases we emit by burning fossil fuels—are destabilizing the ocean food web and threatening the long-term health of coastal communities.

But the ocean is resilient, and it can recover if we act quickly. At Monterey Bay Aquarium, we’ve made climate change and ocean acidification a priority. Our policy team encourages government action to reduce emissions and adapt to the changes already in motion.

This year, California’s leaders have made significant progress. During the 2016 legislative session, the Aquarium supported three successful state bills addressing climate change and ocean acidification. Here’s the lowdown:
Continue reading A landmark year for California’s climate leadership

Let’s talk about seawater desalination

Here at Monterey Bay Aquarium, we know a little about seawater desalination. When we added our Open Sea wing in the late 1990s, we built a small-scale desal plant to produce the water that flushes the Aquarium’s toilets.

Tiny as it is, our desal plant drew attention as one of the first in California. “We had engineers from all over the state looking at it,” says Wayne Sperduto, the Aquarium’s facility systems supervisor.

An aerial view of the Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

Our onsite desal plant is capable of producing about 22 gallons of fresh water per minute. Compare that to the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which last December began delivering fresh water to San Diego County – to the tune of 35,000 gallons per minute.

California’s ongoing drought is driving interest in desalination across the state, and we’re a part of the conversation. In January, Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment, through the Center for Ocean Solutions and Water in the West, collaborated with Monterey Bay Aquarium and The Nature Conservancy to convene a wide range of experts to discuss the potential impacts of ocean desalination on coastal and marine ecosystems.

Continue reading Let’s talk about seawater desalination

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.

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.

Continue reading New report: We can act locally on ocean acidification

Letise LaFeir: Making waves for ocean health in California

Letise LaFeir
Letise LaFeir, California Ocean Policy Manager for Monterey Bay Aquarium

Above the sparkling waves of the Pacific, Monterey Bay Aquarium inspires nearly two million visitors each year to care more — and do more — to protect the health of the ocean.

Toward that end, Letise LaFeir, the Aquarium’s California ocean policy manager, focuses much of her energy on decisions made in the state capital, almost 200 miles to the northeast.

Drawing from her experience in marine science, ocean policy, education and public outreach, Letise encourages legislative and government officials to keep up California’s leadership on ocean and coastal health issues.

 We asked her to tell us more about two major issues she’s working on: climate change and ocean plastic pollution.

 What’s your role at the aquarium, as it relates to climate change?

Communicating about climate change, making sure people get it, is a top priority to help drive action on this issue. It’s important, and it’s affecting us right now.

 Organizations like ours, and the vast majority of scientists, agree that climate change is happening, and that humans are causing it. But we still have hurdles to get over with particular policymakers. There are some who understand, and are looking for solutions and guidance. Others, unfortunately, are still saying climate change isn’t real or isn’t our problem.

At a high level, we’re getting certain policymakers to just accept that we’re already seeing and feeling the impacts of a changing climate, and that planning sooner rather than later will actually be a benefit in the long run — even if that individual policymaker isn’t here to see that benefit.

Then we help them move from understanding to action. Part of the work we do is putting the experts in front of policymakers to answer very specific questions to help them make and implement their decisions.

Continue reading Letise LaFeir: Making waves for ocean health in California

California, a global climate leader

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, our guest blogger is California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird.

I’ve spent the better part of my life observing the sea and advocating for its protection. In recent years, a link has become clear between our human footprint on the environment, unusual weather patterns and ecological shifts due to global climate.

Just a few weeks ago, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife delayed the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season due to high levels of domoic acid, which stem from a large and persistent harmful algal bloom.

Continue reading California, a global climate leader