Conservation & Science

On World Oceans Day, it’s time to protect Earth’s largest habitat

As we celebrate World Oceans Day, it’s too easy to forget about the deep sea. It’s the largest habitat on the planet, and is increasingly threatened by human activities. Monterey Bay Aquarium scientists, and our colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, are working to understand and protect the deep ocean. It’s a big job—and we’ll need your help.

To bring the message about the deep ocean to a wider public, Executive Director Julie Packard and MBARI President and CEO Chris Scholin shared their thoughts about safeguarding the deep sea in an op-ed column published in today’s New York Times.

“The oceans are the largest home for life on our planet and the blue heart of Earth’s climate system,” they write. “We must use them wisely. Otherwise, we risk using them up.”

You can read the full commentary, and their action plan for the deep sea, here.

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.” Read more…

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…

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

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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…

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.

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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.

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…

Julie Packard: March for Science – and a livable planet

Executive Director Julie Packard. Photo © Corey Arnold

Take a deep breath. Now, breathe again.

You can thank the ocean for that second breath, and thank science for helping us understand all the ocean brings to our lives.

Phytoplankton – microscopic plants that draw energy from the sun – produce at least half the oxygen in the atmosphere. But the ocean also absorbs much of the carbon dioxide we produce by burning fossil fuels. The resulting chemical changes make seawater more acidic.

The Pacific Ocean from space. Photo courtesy NASA.

This is a life-and-death matter, because acidification limits the ability of plankton to produce the oxygen on which our survival depends. How quickly is this happening? How can we avert the consequences?

Science can help us understand, and point the way to solutions.

That’s why the Monterey Bay Aquarium is joining other science organizations, experts and individuals around the world on Earth Day, April 22, to publicly affirm the vital role science plays in our lives, and nurture the curiosity of young people eager to understand how our world works.

Read more…

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