Conservation & Science

Playing your part through citizen science

On Earth Day,  Monterey Bay Aquarium staff and volunteers joined in March for Science events along with tens of thousands of people in more than 600 cities around the world. With representatives at marches in seven cities across the U.S. and Europe, the Aquarium stood up for one of our founding principles: that evidence-based science should drive conservation action.

From recording and sharing wildlife observations to reporting stranded sea otters, there are many ways to contribute as a citizen scientist.

It’s clear that the March for Science isn’t just about scientists, and it’s more than a one-day phenomenon. People of all ages and backgrounds participated, because you don’t have to be a trained scientist to appreciate the benefits science offers—or to contribute to the scientific process.

Much of the science taking place at the Aquarium, from saving sea otters to tracking white sharks, relies on dedicated citizens quite literally taking science into their own hands. Thanks to our increasingly connected society, opportunities abound for everyone from middle school students to retired teachers to participate in citizen science at the Aquarium—and beyond. Here are a few of the many ways you can become a citizen scientist. Read more…

We’re lacing up for the March for Science

Try to imagine one morning without science. You’d have no cell phone alarm to wake you up; no clean running water for your shower; no electricity to power your coffee maker. No weather forecast to help you plan your day.

We have science to thank for so many of the benefits of modern life, from our medicines to our food supply to our smartphones. Science also holds the promise of addressing our planet’s most serious environmental challenges. Innovations in renewable energy and clean vehicles can slow the pace of climate change. Rigorous research can better equip us to address the growing problem of plastic pollution in our ocean.

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Scientists with the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program release a rescued sea otter back into the wild.

At Monterey Bay Aquarium, science is at the core of our mission to inspire conservation of the ocean. That’s why we’re one of the first 100 partners in the national March for Science, a series of nearly 500 coordinated events across the United States and around the world on Saturday, April 22. Other partners include the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), American Geophysical Union, Ecological Society of America, Society for Conservation Biology and Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The world is too interconnected, and the issues are too complex, to make decisions without the input of science,” says Kyle Van Houtan, the Aquarium’s science director.

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Aquarist Jennifer O’Quin Anstey checks in on baby seahorses (Hippocampus ingens) in the Aquarium’s lab.

Over the next two weeks, on this blog and through our Twitter and Facebook feeds, we’ll share more about how science contributes to ocean health. We’ll highlight research that’s leading to exciting discoveries about ocean wildlife, and science-based programs transforming the market for sustainable seafood.

We’ll celebrate science education programs that empower young people from diverse backgrounds to become citizen scientists and the ocean conservation leaders of the future. We’ll highlight policy work in support of science-based decision-making, and breakthroughs in deep-sea exploration.

This Earth Day, April 22, the movement will go global as people from all walks of life come together to stand up for science. Advocates in Washington, D.C., will be joined by people at satellite marches on six continents, celebrating science—and their hope for our shared future—with one voice.


Find a March for Science near you.

 

An ocean time machine

The ocean keeps scrupulous records of its past: The comings and goings of myriad creatures, the evolving conditions they lived in, even details of who ate what.

“The ocean has a memory. We just have to tap into it,” says Kyle Van Houtan, the Aquarium’s science director.

Turkish towel red algae are common along the Pacific coast. Illustration courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Turkish towel red algae are common along the Pacific coast. Illustration courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Consider the secrets we might glean from studying a single blade of algae – commonly known as seaweed. During the year or two it was alive, were the surrounding waters pleasantly cool, or unusually acidic? What plants were its neighbors? And what was the world around it like?

With the help of modern technology, historical specimens can now answer some of these questions. And in the world of ocean science, the details amount to hidden treasure.

Like antiques that startle and thrill their owners, proving to be worth small fortunes, pressed seaweeds can yield surprisingly valuable data. Museums and herbariums hold collections of these souvenirs from the ocean, often dating back decades – and too often left unnoticed in deep storage.

Kyle lucked into one such trove when he started work at the Aquarium last year.

Read more…

The world is moving forward on climate

From Nov. 7-18, 2016, delegates from the world’s nations gathered in Marrakech, Morocco, for the 2016 U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP22. With the Paris Agreement—the strongest global commitment to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases—now in effect, nations focused on how to meet reduction targets designed to keep Earth’s atmospheric temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Dr. Kyle Van Houtan, the Aquarium’s director of science, attended the conference to address how carbon emissions affect ocean health. Here, Kyle shares his reflections about the conference.


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A souk selling potpourri, spices, and yarn in the Medina district of Marrakech.

The skylines of Marrakech are framed by stark contrasts. There is the adobe-pink Medina, the ancient city and the heart of Marrakech; modern hotels and bustling urban roundabouts; and the massive, snow-capped Atlas Mountains that hold back the Sahara Desert. The people of Marrakech are mostly of Berber ethnic heritage, and the locals I met were exceedingly conversational, kind and curious.

Nearly 30,000 delegates, speakers, students and emissaries from scores of countries passed through security checkpoints to the tent city where the COP22 meetings were held. We were on the outskirts of town, in a district called Bab Ighli, next to extensive royal olive groves. The tent “rooms”—which became increasingly hot as the day went on,  with crowds of up to a few hundred people per room—were appropriately named after the seas of the world: Arctic, Mediterranean, Caribbean.

Following the landmark agreement at last year’s U.N. climate change conference in Paris (COP21), the Marrakech conference was expected to be a quieter, less exciting gathering focused on the business of implementing the Paris accord. But a few things happened on the way to Marrakech that elevated its importance.

Read more…

Marine protected areas: a smart approach

Last August, U.S. President Barack Obama created (what was then) the largest protected area on Earth.

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Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Photo by NOAA

Obama’s executive order, which came after numerous public meetings, more than quadrupled the size of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The 500,000-square-mile area, surrounding a chain of northwestern Hawaiian Islands, is now protected from commercial fishing and resource extraction.

The monument hosts an abundance and diversity of wildlife, much of it unique to the area. Its expansion was an important step toward protecting more of the global oceans, and showing the world that the United States is committed to doing its part in marine protection.

While Papahānaumokuākea boasts a wide variety of ocean life, marine biodiversity—according to a new study co-authored by Kyle Van Houtan, director of science at Monterey Bay Aquarium—is even higher in some other parts of the ocean.

His paper affirms that marine protected areas are an effective tool for protecting ocean life in the face of rapidly accelerating global change. However, much work remains ahead.

Read more…

Rolling up our sleeves in Marrakech

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Kyle Van Houtan presents at the COP22 conference in Marrakech on Nov. 11, 2016. Photo by Beautifell Photography / Christine Ellman

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. Dr. Kyle Van Houtan, the Aquarium’s director of science, is part of a panel addressing the ocean impacts of climate change. Here’s what he told the world.


At the turn of the century, I spent over a decade researching tropical forests. Most of this time was in Earth’s largest and most biologically diverse terrestrial ecosystem: the Amazon rainforest.

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“Amazon rainforest near Puerto Maldonado” by Ivan Mlinaric is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Tropical rainforests attract the attention of scientists, including me, because of two colliding facts: the astounding biodiversity they hold; and the alarming pace of their deforestation. Heaving with the breath of millions of unique plants and animals, the Amazon’s dense vegetation produces massive amounts of oxygen—an attribute that’s earned it a reputation as the lungs of our planet.

If we think of the Amazon’s trees as the lungs of the planet, then surely the ocean is its heart.

Read more…

COP22 in Marrakech: World climate talks get down to the nitty-gritty

Last December in Paris, more than 180 nations came together for the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2015, also known as COP21. The resulting Paris Agreement is the strongest-ever international commitment to reducing global emissions of heat-trapping gases, including carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning.

The Paris Agreement enters into force today, just before the November 7 start of the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2016 (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco.

COP21 signaled that the world’s nations agree: Climate change is real and having a serious impact on our planet. COP22 takes the next step—it marks the point at which the global community begins to act.

Read more…

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