For many of us, this past week has been a time of deep reflection about what the future holds—for our families, for our country and for our planet. All of us working for change, whether ocean conservation or human rights, will face daunting challenges and uncertainty in the time ahead.
But as I’ve been reflecting over the past few days, one thing has been a constant—how grateful I am to work for an institution that is such a positive force for change, and all made possible by people giving of their time, their support and their conviction.
We must continue to demand change and make it happen. And we will, despite the ups and downs of politics. Thanks to you, the Aquarium will continue to amaze and delight families from all over the world; spark a love of science and nature in young people; offer a sanctuary for wonder and reflection; and become an experience infused in the lifetime memories of millions of people.
Of course, the Aquarium itself is where our mission just begins. As we look to the future, I believe our approach to achieving conservation impact for the ocean will be more relevant and powerful than ever: engage consumers, work with business, bring science to conservation solutions. Where governments are ready to commit to effective ocean policy, help them do it.
When the first groups of early humans stood up and foraged on the plains of East Africa, they solved their food shortages by walking somewhere new. In other words, Dr. M. Sanjayan said, “Humans were never sustainable in one place.”
Within a few days’ walk, Sanjayan said, our early ancestors were able to find new, unexploited resources, which they would deplete over time, then migrate again.
Today, our planet has 7 billion human mouths to feed. And nearly every inch of inhabitable land is already spoken for. “To achieve sustainability, we have to innovate,” Sanjayan said. “And we only have a couple of generations to pull it off.”
Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard, who also sits on the board of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, offered a powerful vision of hope for the future of the ocean Friday morning at the third Our Ocean Conference convened by Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington, D.C.
Julie shared the stage with other leading ocean philanthropists as she announced the Packard Foundation’s five-year, $550 million commitment to advance ocean science, protection and effective management. She held up Monterey Bay as an example of the transformation that’s possible in ocean health with an investment of time and energy to shape a thriving future for this vital living system.
For all their success in driving environmental improvements on land, foundations and philanthropists “over time we realized something was missing—the ‘other’ three-quarters of the planet, 99% of living space on Earth and the most prominent feature on this planet: the ocean,” Julie said.
Monterey Bay demonstrates—in dramatic fashion—what’s possible, she said. Its whales, sea otters and elephant seals were hunted to near-extinction, and the sardines that put Cannery Row on the map disappeared in “one of history’s most famous tales of fishery collapse.”
The wildlife is back, the bay’s ecosystems are robust, “Monterey Bay is now one of most studied pieces of ocean on the planet and California continues to be an incubator for ocean and climate solutions,” Julie said.
From Jan. 18-20, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Stanford University are convening the world’s leading bluefin tuna researchers, policymakers and stakeholders for the Bluefin Futures Symposium in Monterey. Using the power of its global expertise and diverse perspectives, the group is exploring opportunities for international collaboration. Together, the participants are working to create a roadmap toward healthy and sustainable wild bluefin tuna populations across the world’s ocean. Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard shared these thoughts to open the symposium.
All of us at this important gathering are here because we have a stake in the future of these remarkable fish — whether bluefin tunas are an important part of your country’s culture; as economic opportunity for your communities and nations; or as vital components of a thriving, healthy ocean. Since opening, the Aquarium has helped inspire a transformation in public understanding of the sea, and its role in our future. We know now that living and healthy ocean ecosystems are critical to enabling life on Earth to exist. Their future will determine our future — and in fact, our very survival.
We depend on the ocean in so many ways. It’s our pantry, our lungs, our playground, a massive driver of global commerce, a storehouse for innovation to meet human needs, and a source of inspiration and joy. And, we now know that the ocean is changing. Overfishing, pollution and habitat change — from the coast to the deep sea — have escalated at a dangerous pace. And the vast impacts of carbon pollution, from rising sea levels to acidifying waters, are no longer hypothetical. They’re here now, from Miami to Mumbai.
Today, here on the coast of the continent, at this moment in time, we are in fact, both literally and figuratively, on the edge. We’ve accomplished an amazing array of effective models for ocean governance and conservation, and there’s lots to celebrate. But we’ve got to step up our pace. The collective action of everyone in this room, whatever we decide to do in the next few years, will shape the future for critical species like bluefin tunas.
Examples of success
The good news is that I’m confident we can turn the tide — by investing in people and ideas to demonstrate solutions, and to do the hard work required to reach agreement on a path forward. Why do I think this? Because we have examples right in front of us.
Just one month ago, leaders from around the world gathered in Paris to tackle another, seemingly insurmountable challenge: to put the world on a path to a clean energy future that will spare us from the devastating consequences of unchecked global climate change. Faced with the gravity of the threat, the delegates to COP 21 were able to overcome their disagreements and their differences. They crafted an accord that puts our planet on course to a sustainable future — for people, and for the living ecosystems on which our survival depends.
They didn’t solve the problem in one series of meetings, but the COP 21 negotiations mark a turning point on climate change. We have the opportunity, in the next three days, to mark a similar turning point for the future of bluefin tunas. And there is no better place on Earth for this to happen than here in Monterey, California.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium stands on the site of what was once the largest sardine cannery on Cannery Row — an industrial district that was home to the largest fish-packing operations on the planet until the sardine fishery collapsed because of a combination of mismanagement and ecosystem change.
From exploitation to recovery
Sardines weren’t the only ocean life targeted by humans. People hunted sea otters, sea lions and elephant seals to near extinction right off our shore. Once-thriving whale populations were decimated as their blubber was turned into oil to light our homes. With the loss of sea otters, kelp forests disappeared — in turn affecting habitats for other commercially valuable fish, and altering the very structure of the ecosystem here.
When the Aquarium opened, Monterey Bay was already recovering. How did that happen?
Because people took action to protect and recover wildlife and ecosystems. It started in 1911, with the International Fur Seal Treaty that outlawed commercial hunting of seals, sea lions and sea otters in the North Pacific. Decades later, a devastating oil spill just south of here, in Santa Barbara, triggered a flood of environmental protection legislation in the United States: The Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, and many more. In the 1970s, as these laws were being enacted here in the U.S., countries around the world began to focus more attention on conservation of our ocean resources, including the creation of The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas and measures to protect marine mammals. And the wildlife here in California’s coastal ocean began to recover.
Today, when you look out on Monterey Bay, you’ll see the surface waters of one of the largest national marine sanctuaries in the United States. California, in the past decade, created the largest statewide network of marine protected areas anywhere in our nation. And U.S law now mandates science-based catch limits and rebuilding of fish stocks. Our local fisheries are coming back, along with the fishing fleets that rely on healthy fish populations to make a living and to feed our people.
Public inspiration — and scientific rigor
The Aquarium has been a big part of that story because we are more than simply a place for people to come and see living ocean exhibits. Founded by marine biologists, the Aquarium has always had a larger mission: To inspire conservation of the ocean.
Today, we are not only the most innovative and admired public aquarium in the nation. We are also a leader in ocean science — notably in our two decades of research at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center. There, with our partners at Stanford, we have been doing some of the most advanced and innovative science in support of bluefin recovery. We’ve tagged and tracked bluefin tunas in the Atlantic and Pacific — developing an unprecedented body of basic science to inform management of these fish. Because we can keep bluefin and yellowfin tunas in our Open Sea exhibit and in holding tanks at the TRCC, we have also generated information about tuna physiology and biomechanics that is unique in the world. More than 200 scientific papers have come out of the work at the TRCC — with more to come.
Our goal is to share our data in scientific journals and with the modelers, managers and stakeholders who will determine the future of bluefin tunas. We know that developing the science, and adhering strictly to science-based advice in managing these fish, is the key to recovery of their stocks. Put simply, in looking at the health of fisheries around the world, one thing is clear. Well-managed fisheries all have a common ingredient: good scientific data. Where data are poor, it is impossible to establish catch levels that are sustainable in the long term.
Working across ocean basins
We’re working here in the U.S. and internationally to ensure that management decisions are informed by the best available science, and that we share a common vision of sustainability. But this is only possible when we share information with one another, in forums like this. We’re working toward the kind of recovery for bluefin tunas that we’ve seen for other animals and ecosystems here in Monterey Bay, and in California’s coastal waters. But we know that it is much more challenging to orchestrate recovery with species that migrate across political and management boundaries.
We also know that business leadership and engagement are essential to solve the challenges we face. Indeed, the Aquarium was created through collaboration between a technology business leader and conservation scientists.
That’s why I’ve encouraged international business leaders to embrace new approaches and commitments that will ensure economic prosperity and ocean health. It’s a message I’ve brought to The Economist World Ocean Summit and the World Trade Organization. And it’s an approach we’ve advocated in our work with the national ocean commissions in the U.S., and through international initiatives to help Aquarium business partners use their purchasing power to shift seafood production toward a more sustainable future.
We need the same level of commitment in our approach to bluefin tunas.
Cooperation and collaboration
Bluefin tunas are the perfect example of species that can achieve sustainability only when we cooperate and collaborate. Local fleets could head offshore in California this year and catch fish from the population that is here. But those fish will only be here for a few years, at most, before they travel across the Pacific to spawning grounds near Japan. We can’t manage them sustainably just by taking action here in California, in U.S. waters, or even in the Eastern Pacific. The solution requires cross-Pacific collaboration involving all the nations involved, and by two Regional Fisheries Management Bodies.
Southern bluefin tuna have their own unique set of stakeholders and challenges, and the situation in the Atlantic is particularly complex given the scientific uncertainties and number of countries involved. In every case, though, the need for action is urgent — and there are plenty of opportunities for transformational success.
Globally, where bluefin tuna populations are recovering, it’s the result of hard work, investments in research and willingness by all parties to turn things around. The next three days are just the beginning of a new conversation and what it will take, from all of us, to assure the sustainability of bluefin tunas in the future.
If we’re successful — and I’m confident we will be — our commitment to worldwide bluefin tuna recovery will create a lasting model of how to achieve sustainability for a species that is both iconic and a vital player in our global ocean ecosystems. By collaborating, in all the diversity of our perspectives and points of view, we can achieve great things and, together, shape a bright future for bluefin tunas.
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 bindinginternational 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 publicawareness about the many waysour carbon emissions affect ocean health, including ocean acidification, warming sea waters and other impacts on marine life. Today, we offer some thoughts from National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence Dr. Sylvia Earle and Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard on the critical role the ocean plays in human survival and the #OceanForClimate initiative.
Hard to imagine, but the ocean – the engine of life on Earth – has no voice in the current climate change talks in Paris. We can give it one.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is structured to address emissions of greenhouse gases within the territories of nation states. Despite the fact that the ocean is directly affected by rising temperatures and changing chemistry, it sits outside the conversation because it belongs to no nation.
By joining with scientists, citizens and ocean leaders around the world, we can help assure that the voice of the ocean will be heard, and the needs of the ocean will be addressed. It’s a matter of survival.
From August 23 through September 2, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary will host Big Blue Live – an unprecedented series of live natural history broadcasts from PBS and the BBC. Big Blue Live highlights the remarkable marine life that gathers in Monterey Bay each summer, and celebrates an ocean conservation success story of global significance. We’re publishing guest commentaries about conservation efforts that contribute to the health of the bay and our ocean planet. The first is from Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard.
We’ve always known that Monterey Bay is a unique and special place for marine life. That’s what allowed us to create an entire aquarium focused on the wildlife and habitats found in the bay when we opened 31 years ago. It’s why the bay became the largest national marine sanctuary in the continental United States, and why millions of people come here to experience the spectacle of ocean wildlife, whether on a scuba dive, atop a kayak or from shore.
Now, thanks to an unprecedented series of live prime-time broadcasts, PBS and the BBC will tell the bay’s remarkable story in spectacular fashion to millions of people across the United States and Great Britain. We’re thrilled to be the studios from which the broadcasts of Big Blue Live originate – and thrilled that these public broadcasting leaders recognize that the comeback of marine life in the bay is a conservation success story worth sharing with the world.
Ocean plastic pollution is a problem–a big problem– for the health of the ocean and ocean wildlife. In California, we’re making progress by tackling it on several fronts.
Right now, the Legislature isclose to passing the nation’s strongest law to eliminate the use of non-biodegradable microbeads in consumer products. In recent years, cities and counties throughout California have banned single-use plastic bags. And in 2014, California enacted astatewide ban on disposable plastic shopping bags, authored by three of the Aquarium’s 2015 Ocean Champion Award winners– Secretary of State (and former state senator) Alex Padilla, State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and State Senator Ricardo Lara.
That law established California as a leader in the fight against the growingtide of ocean plastic pollution. It was supposed to take effect on July 1– untilout-of-state plastic bag companies spent millions of dollars to force theissue onto the November 2016 ballot. Without the law, each year as many as 13 billion plastic bags will be sold in California that would otherwise not be sold. Every bag could potentially make its way to the ocean.
Implementation ofa statewide ban on single-use bags has been delayed, but not derailed. Victory over the effort to repeal this law is a top Aquarium priority, as taking steps backward is unacceptable. We’re asking you join us and Say Yes on the referendum to keep this law: Say Yes to a plastic-free ocean. Say Yes to reusable shopping bags. Say Yes to California’s leadership on this critical issue.
We’re proud that the Monterey Bay Aquarium is considered the best, most innovative public aquarium in the world, by peers and public alike. We’re equally proud that we’re recognized as an authority on behalf of ocean issues.
Our role as an ocean conservation leader – in sustainable seafood, in science and in policy reform to protect critical ocean resources – is growing. That’s in part because the threats facing the ocean today are greater than ever before.
Executive Director Julie Packard spoke recently with TakePart about the critical role the ocean plays in all our lives – and why it’s vital for aquariums and zoos to take a more active role speaking out on behalf of the natural world.