Conservation & Science

Climate change: A triple threat for the ocean

The ocean headlines these past few months have been unsettling. 

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Now is the time for climate action. It’s not too late; we still have a choice about the kind of future we want to leave today’s children.

A just-released scientific report connects these and a host of other ocean changes with human activities that take place largely on land. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate marks the first time that the IPCC has written a stand-alone report on the marine realm. It presents a detailed account of the increasingly severe consequences of climate change for the ocean, its trillions of creatures and, ultimately, ourselves. 

The report makes clear that to protect the ocean, we must first reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But we must also reduce ocean stress, caused by overfishing and pollution, so the ocean is healthy enough to weather the changes already underway.

“The bottom line is that we need the ocean. And right now, the ocean needs us,” said Julie Packard, executive director of the Aquarium. “It’s not too late to take courageous climate action and safeguard the ocean from further damage.” 

Read more…

Field studies of ocean acidification

Sometimes, research has to venture out of the lab and into the wild. That’s the basis for a long-term Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) project to study how the ocean’s changing chemistry will affect marine life.

A shallow-water Free Ocean CO2 Enrichment (FOCE) system in place near Hopkins Marine Station. Photo courtesy MBARI.

Ocean acidification is a change in seawater pH (and other elements of the ocean carbonate system) as the ocean absorbs excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This change will become more pronounced as people continue to burn fossil fuels.

“It’s important to try to get a better understanding of what impact that will have,” says George Matsumoto, senior education and research specialist at MBARI.

In a more acidic ocean, the minerals used to form calcium carbonate are less abundant, making it more difficult for marine species—from tiny sea snails to oysters and crabs—to build shells or skeletons. MBARI marine ecologist Jim Barry says researchers are working to understand the impact not just on individual animals, but also on broader ecosystems. Read more…

MBARI puts science and technology to work for ocean health

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. Climate scientist Heidi Cullen, director of communications and strategic initiatives for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, shares some of the studies MBARI has undertaken to understand the impact of climate change on ocean ecosystems.

Heidi Cullen, director of communications and strategic initiatives at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Caring about the ocean means caring about climate change. From increasing ocean acidification to coral bleaching to harmful algal blooms, climate change—caused by the burning of fossil fuels—is having a profound and sometimes deadly impact on our ocean. I am tremendously hopeful that recent advances in science and technology will help us better understand and protect the planet’s largest ecosystem. We rely on it for so much!

At MBARI, engineers and scientists are developing new tools to study and monitor ocean change. Innovative technology is improving the way we access, sample, measure and visualize the rapid changes taking place across the ocean—from the surface down to the bottom of the sea. It is also improving the way we manage ocean resources. I want to share three exciting examples of cutting-edge ocean research happening at MBARI right now. This research is helping us better understand how climate change is already impacting our living ocean, and how we can better protect it in the future. Read more…

California steps up its climate leadership

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. Ken Alex, senior policy advisor to Governor Jerry Brown, reflects on  California’s leadership at this pivotal moment.


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Ken Alex is senior policy advisor to Governor Jerry Brown, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and chair of the Strategic Growth Council.

I grew up in Southern California, and spent lots of time at Seal Beach, Sunset, Huntington, and Bolsa Chica. Those beaches were a central part of my childhood. Today, scientists say they may be gone within 80 years.

Just last month, the state of California issued its most recent evaluation of climate change impact, California’s Fourth Assessment. The report states that as many as two-thirds of Southern California beaches could completely erode by 2100 without large-scale human interventions. By 2050, just 32 years from now, an estimated $17.9 billion worth of residential and commercial buildings across the state could be inundated by sea-level rise.

We already know the impact of fires, heat and drought, exacerbated by climate change, on our state. Climate change is real. It is dramatic. It impacts all of us. Fortunately, action is at hand—and more is on the way. 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…

Fish carbon-era: How our fossil fuel habit is changing the future of seafood

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MBARI researcher Jim Barry handles a sea urchin in his lab. Photo © 2009 MBARI / Todd Walsh

In the early days of ocean acidification research, experiments were simple, says benthic ecologist Jim Barry. Some involved plopping fish into containers of high-carbon seawater. This sort of lab test allowed researchers to observe animals’ physiological responses to our ocean’s changing chemistry.

These days, many studies attempt to address the more difficult question of how acidification and ocean warming might affect interconnected marine species. “What you can’t learn from tests of fish in a jar,” Barry says, “is how climate change affects the way energy moves through a food web.”

That line of inquiry may start in the pages of scientific journals, but it leads somewhere more intimate: our dinner plates.

Read more…

The world is taking climate action at COP23

wsi-imageoptim-cop23The ocean is about to take center stage at the United Nations’ annual climate change conference in Bonn, Germany. November 11 is officially Oceans Action Day at COP23, when leaders of government, businesses and organizations around the world turn their attention to the sea that covers more than 70% of our planet.

Speakers at the international gathering will discuss how carbon emissions from human activities are changing the world’s ocean (and not for the good)—including impacts on marine wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture, and coastal communities. They’ll also explore science-based solutions, such as ramped-up development of renewable energy and ecosystem-based adaptation to the changes already underway.

Ocean Action Day includes a program at the U.S. Climate Action Center—the largest pavilion at the climate talks. Michael Bloomberg (the former mayor of New York City and a U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change) and California Gov. Jerry Brown will release a new “America’s Pledge” report detailing what U.S. states, cities, and businesses are doing to keep the U.S. on track to meet its Paris Agreement carbon reduction goals. They will be joined by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Laura Phillips, Senior VP of Sustainability for Walmart, to discuss specific actions to meet the emission targets established under the Paris Agreement.

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Bikes lined up outside COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photo by UNClimateAction via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

The day will conclude with a signing ceremony for the “Because the Ocean Declaration,” an effort led by Chile, urging nations of the world to protect the ocean as they map paths toward implementing the breakthrough Paris Agreement—the commitment, adopted two years ago by nearly every nation in the world, to reduce our emissions of heat-trapping gases. The island nation of Fiji is also leading a collaborative effort, called the Ocean Pathway Partnership, to give the ocean the prominent place it deserves in the U.N.’s ongoing climate conversations.

Read more…

Science on the front lines of ocean acidification

Life seems easy for the little red tuna crabs delighting Monterey Bay Aquarium visitors. The temperature and water chemistry in their exhibit are carefully controlled and stable. In the wild, it’s a different story. Conditions are changing—fast. Crabs and other critters are in a race with time, as record levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) warm the planet and change ocean chemistry.

Our colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) are on the front line, documenting the impacts and identifying potential solutions for this serious threat to ocean health.

CO2 bubbled up slowly

For more than a century, scientists have known that burning fossil fuels warms our planet. They’ve also long been aware of another impact—this one affecting ocean chemistry.

In 1909, a brewery chemist discovered that CO2 both creates bubbles when it’s dissolved in liquid, and makes it more acidic.

In 1909, a chemist at the Carlsberg Brewery Laboratory discovered that CO2 dissolved in water not only creates tiny bubbles (like in beer). It also makes liquid more acidic. In other words, our burning of fossil fuels is changing the chemistry of the ocean, a process called ocean acidification.

The impact of rising atmospheric CO2 developed slowly and subtly. By the 1960s, however, climatologists began raising alarms. Decades later, Al Gore’s landmark book and movie, An Inconvenient Truth, framed climate change as an urgent threat to human survival. As the scientific community worked to build accurate models of climate dynamics and explore ways to deal with rampant carbon, some eyed the ocean—which absorbs 25 percent to 30 percent of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere—as a solution. Could we stash even more atmospheric carbon in the sea, sparing the planet the worst impacts of global warming? Read more…

A global breakthrough for ocean health

Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard was in New York City from June 5-9 to attend the United Nations’ first-ever Ocean Conference. Aquarium staff members presented at several key sessions, on issues ranging from ocean acidification and plastic pollution to sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. Here, Julie reports on the conference’s significant progress toward ocean health.

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Julie Packard and Prince Albert of Monaco at the UN Ocean Conference in New York City.

Last week, the United Nations Headquarters in New York City was especially blue, and the ocean was on everyone’s mind. Inside and out, the building was adorned with ocean-themed sculptures and stunning marine-life photographs. The halls were filled with noted ocean conservation leaders including Sylvia Earle, Sir Richard Branson and Prince Albert of Monaco.

They joined representatives from governments, organizations and businesses around the world, who had gathered for the first-ever UN Ocean Conference with one goal in mind: to protect the sea that supports all life on our planet.

I attended as part of our Monterey Bay Aquarium team, to listen, meet with delegates and call for action on three critical fronts: environmental and social sustainability of global fisheries and aquaculture; steps to address the causes and impacts of climate change and ocean acidification; and new commitments to reduce the flow of plastic pollution from land to sea.

Exhibitions during The Ocean Conference. Photo ©OPGAArianaLindquist
Exhibitions during The Ocean Conference. Photo ©OPGA Ariana Lindquist

It was gratifying to see the tangible results of our team’s participation in the growing collaborations among NGOs, governments and business leaders. We heard from many attendees that the Aquarium’s presence—and our ideas—have had a real impact.

On June 9, the final day of the conference, the UN’s 193 member nations unanimously approved a global call to action that mirrors the Aquarium’s own ocean conservation goals. They agreed “to act decisively and urgently [for ocean health], convinced that our collective action will make a meaningful difference to our people, to our planet and to our prosperity.”

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Jenn Kemmerly speaks at the UN Ocean Conference Partnership Dialogue, “Making Fisheries Sustainable.”

Countries resolved to improve fisheries management and restore fish stocks to sustainable levels, end harmful fisheries subsidies and crack down on illegal fishing. They agreed to pursue solutions for ocean acidification, rising sea levels and ocean warming—with most nations reaffirming their commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change as an important roadmap toward a more stable planet. And they pledged to adopt new strategies to reduce the flow of single-use plastics, like disposable bags and cutlery, that ultimately make their way to the ocean.

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Josh Madeira, the Aquarium’s federal policy manager, delivers remarks at the UN Ocean Conference plenary session.

“The Ocean Conference has changed our relationship with the ocean,” Peter Thomson, president of the UN General Assembly, told the delegates. “Henceforth none can say they were not aware of the harm humanity has done to the ocean’s health. We are now working around the world to restore a relationship of balance and respect towards the ocean.”

The first Ocean Conference was convened in support of the updated sustainable development goals adopted by the UN in 2015, which included a new Goal 14: “to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources” by 2030.

The global community is joining together for the ocean, the heart of Earth’s climate system. The Aquarium will continue to be part of the conversation, working with a growing network of government, NGO and business partners to make a difference for the future of our ocean.

Learn more about Conservation and Science at Monterey Bay Aquarium.


Featured photo: Grey reef sharks and colorful schools of​ ​​anthias in the waters of Jarvis Island, Pacific Remote Island Areas Marine National Monument. Photo by Kelvin Gorospe  via CC BY 2.0.

We’re a voice for the sea at the first-ever United Nations Ocean Conference

The ocean produces half the oxygen we breathe, regulates climate by absorbing atmospheric carbon, and is the primary source of protein for 3.5 billion people. More than 80 percent of the Earth’s population lives within 60 miles of the coast. But these and other critical benefits are fast eroding as growing human needs strain the ocean’s living systems.

The_Oceans_Conference_Logo_Horiz_ENFrom June 5-9, the United Nations will take on the challenge when it hosts its first Ocean Conference at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City—a global gathering focused on protecting the ocean resources so vital to human survival.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium will play a significant role in the conference, advocating for policies to reduce single-use plastic, new commitments that promote sustainable international fisheries, and concerted action to tackle ocean acidification and other impacts of climate change.

“The ocean plays a vital role in enabling life on Earth to exist, yet ocean health has been ignored for too long by international decision-makers,” says Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. “The U.N. Ocean Conference is a signal that things are changing. We’ll be there as a voice for the living ocean on which our future depends.”

Julie notes that the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean mirrors the priorities that Monterey Bay Aquarium works to advance, in the United States and around the world. Key staff will contribute to Ocean Conference forums on critical issues, including:

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A Monterey Bay fishing boat brings in its catch. Photo ©Steve Kepple

Improving the sustainability of global fisheries

Through our Seafood Watch program and extensive international policy work, the aquarium plays a respected and influential role – among governments, major businesses, producers and consumers – in shifting global seafood production in more sustainable directions.

As the conference begins, Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard will be part of a World Economic Forum announcement and discussion about new commitments from major seafood businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations to end illegal, unregulated and unreported tuna fishing around the world.

On Wednesday, June 7, Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of global fisheries and aquaculture for the Aquarium, will speak on a panel focused on making fisheries sustainable.

Taking action to combat ocean acidification

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Oyster farmers along the U.S. West Coast have already begun to see the impacts of ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification, a result of fossil fuel burning, is making it difficult for marine animals to build their shells. That includes some species of plankton, the base of the ocean food web.

The Aquarium was an early supporter of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, and will represent the founding partners – British Columbia, and the U.S. states of California, Oregon and Washington – on Thursday, June 8.

Margaret Spring, our vice president of conservation and science and chief conservation officer, will speak on a panel addressing ocean acidification action plans to protect vulnerable resources.

Reducing the sources of plastic pollution

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The passage of California’s Proposition 67 will prevent the use of billions of plastic carryout bags each year.

Last year, we championed California’s first-in-the-nation statewide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags. This summer, we’ll launch a collaborative campaign involving 20 leading North American aquariums to reduce consumer demand for single-use plastic products – from drinking straws to shopping bags.

On Monday, June 5, Aimee David, Aquarium Director of Ocean Conservation Policy Strategies, will address efforts to tackle marine debris: internationally, nationally and at United Nations Headquarters. The panel, hosted by Costa Rica, features speakers from the United Nations Environment Programme, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Zoological Society of London.

Celebrating the ocean – in New York and beyond

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Working together, we can protect the health of the ocean for future generations. Photo by ©Jim Capwell / http://www.divecentral.com

On Sunday, June 4, our Seafood Watch team will be part of a day-long World Ocean Festival, a free event on Governors Island in New York Harbor that precedes Monday’s opening of the U.N. Ocean Conference. We’ll host a public exhibit space about sustainable fisheries and aquaculture opportunities, and a Seafood Watch expert will be part of a sustainable seafood presentation during the festival.

And in partnership with the U.N. Environment Program, the International Program on the State of the Ocean, Ocean Conservancy and the Zoological Society of London, we will promote the #OneLess initiative, aimed at inspiring Ocean Conference delegates and the public to reduce single-use plastic products like water bottles. The campaign will distribute reusable water bottles to conference attendees, and will encourage delegates to promote policies that reduce our reliance on single-use plastic products.

World leaders are coming together this week to address the biggest threats to our shared global ocean, but we all have a role to play. You can make a difference through small changes, such as driving less, switching to reusable water bottles and following Seafood Watch recommendations.

We hope you’ll join us in protecting our living ocean, on which all life depends.


Featured image: “United Nations New York City” by Anthony Quintano is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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