Conservation & Science

Teens tackle an unlikely source of plastic pollution: wayward golf balls

In the chilly Pacific waters off Carmel Beach, Alex Weber was practicing holding her breath and diving in search of jade in May 2016. Swimming down to the seafloor, she instead made a surprising discovery: a trove of lost golf balls. Some were practically new; others might have dated back decades.

Alex Weber and Jack Johnston hold a few of the thousands of errant golf balls they’ve recovered from Carmel Bay.

Alex, a lifelong Californian who is now 17, had volunteered in the past for beach cleanups, scouring the shore with a particular eye for plastic pellets.

“I’d been spending so much time in the sand picking up tiny micro-plastics. I thought these golf balls would make such a big difference,” she says.

She decided to make a practice of kayaking and swimming out to collect them in mesh “goodie bags”—the kind she’s since found can hold some 30 pounds of balls each.

Her efforts drew the attention of her 16-year-old high school classmate Jack Johnston.

Alex Weber and Jack Johnston inspired a coalition to carry on the clean-up effort.

“I was at the beach the same day Alex pulled out that first load, and thought, ‘What is happening? Are those just in our ocean?’ I immediately wanted to get involved,” he says.

The two have since collected close to 10,000 golf balls from Carmel Bay. Jack, a Canadian transplant who took to the frigid waters around the Monterey Peninsula long before he acquired his first wetsuit, says—depending on the weather —a day’s haul might range from several hundred to well over a thousand balls.

The Weber family’s garage is now stacked with baskets full of golf balls, which Alex and Jack plan to recycle or transform into an art project. In a testament to how much two determined teens can accomplish, their labors have also rippled into a collaborative undertaking that has drawn together federal officials, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and nearby Pebble Beach Golf Links. Read more…

Monterey Bay is powering up for clean energy

California’s Central Coast is known for its rocky shorelines, fresh seafood and superb seaside golf. Now, it’s poised to become one of the state’s leaders in renewable energy.

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Monterey Bay Community Power will source more energy from clean sources like solar. “Renewable Energy Development in the California Desert” by Bureau of Land Management is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties recently came together to establish a new power authority that gives local communities greater control over the sources of their electricity. The project, called Monterey Bay Community Power, allows communities in the Monterey Bay region to accelerate progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions—the primary driver of climate change and ocean acidification—and serve as a model for development and use of renewable energy development.

Monterey Bay Community Power enables participating communities to become clean power capitals. The authority intends to purchase almost 60 percent of its energy from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal power. That’s more than double the percentage of clean power currently offered by the area’s private utilities. Profits from energy sales to customers in the tri-county region will stay in the community to help fund renewable energy projects, create jobs and stimulate the local economy.

Read more…

After a jubilant March for Science, we’re marching on for the ocean

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The Aquarium’s Jennifer Matlock (fourth from left) heads up the March for Science Silicon Valley beside Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and others. Photo © Monterey Bay Aquarium / Paul Sakuma

On Earth Day, April 22, people came together in more than 600 cities around the world to stand up for science. And Monterey Bay Aquarium was all-in, standing up for the power of science to protect our shared ocean.

At the Aquarium, to quote Executive Director Julie Packard, “science is in our DNA.” We use research to make discoveries about marine wildlife and ecosystems, to inform ocean conservation policy, and to inspire the next generation of ocean leaders. We believe that evidence-based science can inform decisions that make our world better.

To show our support, Aquarium staff marched for science in cities across the U.S., including Washington DC, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Santa Cruz. We went international too, with staff marching in Brussels and Amsterdam.

Even our resident African penguins joined in with a “March of the Penguins for Science,” waddling through our Kelp Forest gallery while staff—and a Facebook Live audience (now at 2.5 million, and rising)—cheered them on.

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Celebrating California’s global conservation leadership

March 14 was more than Pi Day. In Sacramento, it was also Ocean Day California. And while pi—the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter—is delightfully infinite, we know that the ocean’s resources are not.

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Julie Packard addresses attendees of the 2017 Ocean Day California reception in Sacramento.

That’s why hundreds of advocates and educators came together in the state’s capital to celebrate ocean and coastal health. Through meetings with legislators, staff and colleagues, they worked to raise awareness of the critical role our ocean plays in sustaining life on Earth.

In the evening, for the eighth year, Monterey Bay Aquarium hosted a reception for almost 250 state legislators, government officials and ocean leaders—people dedicated to conserving the health and vitality of our state’s blue treasures.

Our guests enjoyed dishes featuring California seafood rated “Best Choice” by the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. (Check out our Seafood Watch blog for more on the incredible dishes, from rainbow trout sushi to house-smoked sablefish—and the people who produced and prepared them.)

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Thai coconut curry trout at the Ocean Day reception. Every seafood item served was a California-sourced Seafood Watch “Best Choice.”

Julie Packard, our executive director, thanked the attending officials and advocates for helping make California both an environmental leader and an economic powerhouse.

“We have one of the world’s most incredible natural coastlines, thriving coastal communities and a rich diversity of marine wildlife because of the work of the people in this room,” she said.

“Our commitment to conservation should be stronger than ever. We support California leaders in their commitment to both safeguard what we’ve accomplished to date, and at the same time, forge ahead on the conservation policy, management and investment California is known for across the globe.”

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Sustainable local fisheries: the triple bottom line

For as long as humans have lived along Monterey Bay, they’ve found sustenance in the sea. Beginning with the native Ohlone people, and persisting through the arrival of immigrants from the 18th century onward, fishing has always been at the heart of Monterey Bay’s regional identity.

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Monterey harbor. Photo by Melissa Mahoney

“Many immigrants, upon first arrival, went immediately to the shore and began to try and figure out how to make a living from the bay’s bounty,” says Sandy Lydon, emeritus historian at Cabrillo College.

But today, most of the fish sold on Monterey’s own wharves is imported. Paradoxically, the fish caught and landed in Monterey Bay is largely sold for export.

Fisheries in Monterey Bay, as in much of the U.S., are finally sustainable from an environmental standpoint. But in order to preserve our region’s fishing heritage, we need to make it economically worthwhile, too.

At the Aquarium, we want to help keep sustainable fishing in Monterey Bay by demonstrating what we call the triple bottom line: sustainable fisheries, healthy ocean ecosystems and a thriving local economy.

Getting there, however, is a challenge.

Read more…

A last-ditch effort to save the vaquita

Spotting a vaquita in the northern Gulf of California is a bit like glimpsing a snow leopard in the Himalayas. Some local fishermen told a reporter they’ve never seen a vaquita—and doubt they even exist.

One day soon, they might be right. But not if a coalition of experts, working with the Mexican government, can help it.

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Vaquita observers use binoculars capable of spotting vaquitas almost 2 miles away. Photo by NOAA Fisheries/Barbara Taylor

Barbara Taylor is one of the few people who’s seen a vaquita—hundreds of them, she says, in her 20 years doing population surveys. As a conservation biologist and a long-time member of the vaquita recovery team, Barbara has the training, and the powerful binoculars, to locate the small porpoises.

When vaquitas surface to breathe, they do it subtly and disappear quickly; and they tend to keep their distance from boats. “They are almost impossible to see from a little panga on the water,” she says.

But there’s another reason few people have encountered vaquitas: They’re the most highly endangered marine mammal species on Earth. These shy, small porpoises were only discovered in the 1950s. The population dropped from an estimated 567, when Barbara’s team first surveyed them in the late 1990s, to fewer than 60 last year. (UPDATE: According to a report published Feb. 1, the population is now estimated at only 30 individuals.)

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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.

Read more…

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