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.
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.
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.)
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.)
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:
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.
It’s been an exciting year for ocean conservation at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
We’ve collaborated with our colleagues in Baja, Mexico on a number of conservation missions—one of them involving ancient shark mummies. And we joined forces with U.S. aquariums and zoos to call for stronger protections for the endangered vaquita porpoises of the Gulf of California.
As 2016 comes to a close, let’s look back at the top 10 highlights from this blog:
10. Camera to Crack a White Shark Mystery: Our senior reseach scientist teamed up with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute for a high-tech mission: to capture video footage of great white sharks in their most mysterious habitat.
“Some of the engineering team said it was an impossible job,” MBARI Engineer Thom Maughan recalled. “But I’m attracted to those opportunities.”
Makana stood on a cart at the front of the room and sized up the crowd. Her caretaker offered a few gestures to make her comfortable, scratching her under the chin and misting her with a spray bottle. Then the Laysan albatross partially opened her glossy dark wings, to appreciative murmurs from the audience.
It was as if she knew this was an especially important crowd to impress.
Watching Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Makana Show” in front of our Kelp Forest Exhibit were more than 100 professionals from aquariums across the U.S. and Canada, along with experts from scientific institutions, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. They were gathered in Monterey for the first-ever Aquarium Plastic Pollution Symposium, which was hosted by Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Over the course of three days, from December 5-7, the group discussed how aquariums can work together to tackle the problem of plastic pollution in our ocean, rivers and lakes.