Re-writing the future for coral reefs

The Paris Agreement— the strongest global commitment to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases—became international law on November 4. Ratifying nations from both the developed and developing world have gathered in Marrakech, Morocco, for the 2016 U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP22. Nations are now focusing on detailed steps to meet reduction targets designed to keep Earth’s temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

Today’s guest post, focused on the important role of coral reefs, comes from Kristen Weiss of the Center for Ocean Solutions—a partnership between Stanford Woods Insititute for the Environment, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.


“It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.” -Miracle Max, The Princess Bride

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A toadstool leather coral (Sarcophyton sp.) on exhibit at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Coral reefs have suffered from an intense global bleaching event that began in 2014, threatening more than 40% of the world’s corals and sparking environmental writer Rowan Jacobsen to write a controversial “Obituary for the Great Barrier Reef.” Global warming, plus last year’s El Niño event, are the key culprits in this mass bleaching.

Closer to home, reef habitats from Florida to the Gulf of Mexico have also been hard hit. Fortunately, despite this widespread devastation, there are still regions where at least some coral species have survived bleaching—in other words, where coral reefs are mostly dead, but still slightly alive. According to many coral biologists, that makes all the difference.

“In every bleaching event, there are survivors,” explains Professor Steve Palumbi of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. “Corals sitting right next to a bleached one that are not themselves bleached. Why? Do those corals just have the right genes? The right algal symbiont? The right micro-habitat? And do they give rise to the next generation of growing corals?”

Continue reading Re-writing the future for coral reefs

We’re Saving Animals From Extinction

May 15 marks the 10th anniversary of Endangered Species Day. At the aquarium, we’ve worked every day for the past 30 years to save wildlife from extinction.

It’s the focus of many of our efforts – from our living exhibits, to the research we conduct here and in the wild, to our work to shape public policy in ways that protect ocean habitats and wildlife.

SAFE_logo_webSeafood Watch, too, contributes to wildlife protection by giving individuals and businesses tools so they can choose seafood that’s caught or farmed in ways that protect ocean ecosystems.

We’re not alone in our efforts. We’re part of a 229-member conservation organization – the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) – whose members are making a difference for wildlife around the world.

Collective action for conservation

Today, we’re stepping up in an even bigger way through a new initiative called AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction. We’re combining the collective power of our 180 million annual visitors with our resources and expertise to save animals from extinction.

For decades, we and our AZA colleagues have been conservation leaders so the world will preserve its incredible wildlife. At the aquarium, we’re actively working to understand and protect sea otters, sharks and bluefin tuna. We rescue and release wildlife including Western snowy plovers and stranded sea turtles. We’re working for the recovery of steelhead trout in California. And we raise corals that we share with other aquariums, to reduce the need to collect from the wild.

African penguin at Monterey Bay Aquarium
African penguin at Monterey Bay Aquarium

We’re the wildlife experts

Among conservation organizations, no one has more animals, scientists or access to the public than AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos. In addition to the visitors we reach, we have the largest group of life scientists working for species preservation. And we have the largest living wildlife collection – more than 75,000 animals representing over 6,000 species, including 1,000 endangered species.

Collectively, we spend $160 million each year on conservation projects and programs.

Through AZA SAFE, accredited aquariums and zoos will build on a legacy that began more than a century ago, when zoos brought the American bison back from the brink. In the future, we’ll do more. We’ll convene scientists and stakeholders globally to identify key factors threatening species, develop Conservation Action Plans and engage the public to help us make a difference. You can follow the latest developments via social media by using the hashtag #savingspecies.

White shark with tagsA 10-year plan for saving species

In 2015, SAFE will focus on 10 endangered species, adding an additional 10 species each year for the next decade. The inaugural 10 species include several you can see in Monterey: African blackfooted penguins, sharks, Western pond turtles and sea turtles. Our next special exhibition, featuring marine life of Baja and the Gulf of California, is home to the critically endangered vaquita porpoise – another species that SAFE will work to recover.

How can you help? Every time you visit, you support our work to save animals from extinction. Our members are our partners in everything we do to assure a future with healthy oceans and abundant ocean wildlife.

When you stay in touch, as a member and through our social media accounts, we’ll let you know when you can take action to make a difference. And we’ll celebrate our progress – because, with your help, we are making progress!

Learn more about our Conservation and Science programs

Become a member and support our work