Conservation & Science

Counting fish like a BOSS

Counting fish in the ocean isn’t easy—particularly when they swim among jagged rocks and along undersea cliffs hundreds of feet below the waves. To help, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has developed a new camera system called the Benthic Observation Survey System, or BOSS.

The BOSS camera design was fine-tuned, including simulated deployment in MBARI’s test tank, before it was placed in the ocean. BOSS photos ©MBARI

A five-foot metal cylinder that features an array of cameras and lights, the BOSS is designed to be lowered from a ship to the seafloor and land upright on rocky terrain. There, it will help scientists survey fish populations using eight high-definition video cameras.

Researchers and policymakers need this technology to find out more about life in the ocean and how to better protect it. MBARI developed the BOSS with input from investigators at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and The Nature Conservancy .

“The scientists I’m working with are looking at areas that previously were heavily fished out,” explains MBARI staff engineer Chad Kecy, who led the effort to design and build the BOSS. Chad and his colleagues are trying to get a better understanding of how fish populations are recovering in these areas, what species are present, how big they are and where they swim.

Chad likes the challenge of solving problems on a tight timeline. The BOSS had to be built and tested in a matter of months, because the scientists who planned to deploy it already had research trips scheduled on boats that could not wait.

“Now the scientists are busy analyzing all this video they were able to capture with the tool that we developed,” Chad says.

Mary Gleason, science director for The Nature Conservancy’s California Oceans Program and who helped develop the BOSS, says it can fill important gaps in existing data, based on its inaugural voyage: “We showed that we could get 400 video surveys done across 300 miles of coastline during one three-week cruise. So that’s pretty efficient in terms of data quantity.”

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Protecting the ocean, the heart of Earth’s climate system

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. Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard reflects on the central role of the ocean, the heart of Earth’s climate system, in this historic moment.

To solve the climate crisis, humanity must address the health of the ocean—the largest ecosystem on our planet. The ocean is our first line of defense against the impacts of climate change, absorbing a significant share of the excess carbon dioxide and heat we produce by burning fossil fuels. And a healthy ocean helps protect humanity from the intensifying impacts of climate change.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. Photo courtesy Motofumi Tai.

For too long, the ocean has been left out of climate conversations. That will change at the Global Climate Action Summit, where for the first time ocean stewardship is on the priority agenda.

A group of government and nongovernmental representatives, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, are calling on all sectors of society to protect the ocean—our most powerful tool to mitigate, and adapt to, the impacts of climate change. We’ve outlined that challenge, and provided a blueprint for action, through an Ocean-Climate Action Agenda.

The attention is overdue. And the need is urgent.

Our lives depend on a healthy ocean

As land creatures, we may not be wired to think much about the ocean—how its cycles are directly linked to our own survival, and how our choices affect it.

Seafood from the ocean provides one-sixth of the protein that sustains our population. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Selfishly, we should. We depend on the ocean in so many ways. Its marine life provides one-sixth of the animal protein we eat. Its waters carry more than 90 percent of the world’s trade—moving goods and raw materials more cost-effectively than any other mode of transport. Its shores are home to nearly half of all people on Earth.

The ocean drives global weather systems. A warming ocean and atmosphere is sparking changes in stable weather systems that have allowed civilization to flourish. Photo courtesy NASA.

The ocean is the heart of Earth’s climate system; its currents and winds circulate heat and moisture around our planet. The weather patterns we associate with different regions of the world have been relatively stable throughout human history, thanks to the ocean. 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…

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.

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A year of hope for the global ocean

Say what you will about 2016—the world made some big waves to protect the ocean. As the sun sets on this year, let’s reflect on its brightest marine moments:

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The Aquarium and our partners campaigned across the state for Prop 67.

California votes to ban single-use plastic bags

November brought a big ballot win for ocean health. Thanks to voters, California now has the nation’s first law banning single-use plastic carryout bags statewide.

Working with our partners, the Aquarium campaigned in support of Proposition 67, the California ballot measure to uphold the statewide bag ban. We also urged a NO vote on the deceptive Proposition 65, which could have further delayed the ban’s implementation.

Voters agreed, approving Proposition 67 and rejecting Proposition 65. And just like that, single-use plastic carryout bags are now a thing of California’s past. The new law could prevent billions of plastic bags from polluting our ocean each year—which means a cleaner future for marine wildlife and coastal communities.

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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.

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Julie Packard: Our commitment to ocean conservation is stronger than ever

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.

Executive Director Julie Packard. Photo © Corey Arnold
Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. Photo © Corey Arnold

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.

Our work to inspire conservation of the ocean begins when we touch the hearts of visitors.
Our work to inspire conservation of the ocean begins when we touch the hearts of visitors.

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.

Read more…

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