Conservation & Science

The world unites to protect Our Ocean

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Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Our Ocean conference. ©European Union, 2017

Each year, global leaders gather at the Our Ocean conference, pledging meaningful actions to protect the health of the global ocean. This year, on the Mediterranean island of Malta, Monterey Bay Aquarium was at the heart of several key initiatives addressing fisheries, aquaculture and ocean plastic pollution.

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who launched the event in 2014, announced a new partnership between the Aquarium and the Carnegie Endowment for International PeaceThrough the Southeast Asia Fisheries and Aquaculture Initiative, we’ll work with regional governments and seafood producers in Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines to overcome obstacles to sustainable seafood production.

“Sustainable fishing is good for jobs and good for the environment at the same time,” Kerry said. “It’s not a competition between the two.”

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Pulling plastic off the shelf

Cheers to a clean ocean! At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we’re working to reduce plastic pollution by making changes right here at home.

PMNM - Laysan Albatross 2016 Cleanup
An albatross investigates a plastic toothbrush that washed up on its island—and might look like food. Photo by NOAA / David Slater

Single-use plastic may be convenient for a few minutes. But once it’s out of our hands, it adds to a growing global problem that threatens the health of marine wildlife like fish, turtles and seabirds. These animals can become entangled in plastic trash like six-pack rings, plastic bags and abandoned fishing nets. As the plastic pollution breaks apart into smaller pieces called microplastics, many animals mistakenly ingest it—filling their stomachs with toxic trash instead of needed nutrition.

At the Aquarium, we’re tackling ocean plastic pollution through education, business initiatives and science-based policies. We also took a look around and identified the parts of our own operations where we could cut back on single-use plastics. These changes take creative thinking and ongoing conversations with our suppliers, staff and guests. But through trial and error, we’re making progress.

One year ago, we reported on how we’ve reduced single-use plastic in our cafe, restaurant and gift shops. Since then, we’ve challenged ourselves to go further. Next time you visit, you might spot a few upgrades.

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Aquariums come together to tackle plastic pollution

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.

Aquarium Plastic Pollution Symposium 2016
Aimee David, director of ocean conservation policy and initiatives, addresses the Aquarium Plastic Pollution Symposium in Monterey.

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.

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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.

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Why plastic bag recycling isn’t enough

“I recycle my plastic bags already. Why should I support Proposition 67?”

It’s a good question, and one we get often. First, we applaud your efforts to recycle. And it’s great you’re doing your research on Prop 67, the California ballot referendum to uphold the statewide ban on single-use, carryout plastic bags.

Unfortunately, recycling has its limitations in tackling the global challenge of ocean plastic pollution. And the reasons might not be obvious.

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Plastic bags dominate a recycling conveyor belt. “Sunset Park SIMS Material Recovery Facility” by Garrett Ziegler is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Too expensive to recycle

Many people recycle their single-use plastic bags, either in grocery stores or in their curbside recycling bins. But it’s still not making much of a dent in the numbers heading to the landfill. Of the approximately 15 billion single-use plastic bags that Californians use each year, only about 3 percent are ultimately recycled.

Instead, the bags notoriously jam recycling machinery. As a result, cities and counties spend an enormous amount of time, labor and money removing plastic bags from the recycling stream.

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We’re cutting back on single-use plastic

Visitors to Monterey Bay Aquarium come here to experience up-close encounters with amazing ocean animals like color-changing cuttlefishes, playful sea otters and schooling sardines.

Along the way, they might stop for a bite to eat at our cafe and restaurant. On their way out, they might browse our gift and bookstore for something special to take home as a memory of their visit.

We’re working hard to make sure all Aquarium operations support our mission: to inspire conservation of the ocean. One way we’re doing that is by reducing single-use plastics in our facilities, including our dining areas and retail shops managed by Service Systems Associates (SSA).

Marine Debris
Plastic litter pollutes a beach in the northern Hawaiian islands. Photo by NOAA/Claire Fackler

Scientists estimate there are today more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean, from the surface all the way to the bottom of deep submarine canyons. Plastic pollution harms marine wildlife, trashes our communities and is even impacting our health.

The clear solution is to prevent plastic from getting in the ocean in the first place, and we all can help! We can start by avoiding single-use plastic—the stuff we only use once, then throw away.

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Make it a Plastic-Free July!

Summertime is pretty much one big YAY: fireworks, barbecues, trips to the beach. It’s the time of year we tend to appreciate the ocean the most — whether we’re surfing in it, taking a cruise on it or kicking back on the sand beside it.

But all of these awesome moments can come with a cost. We’re trashing our coasts and ocean with single-use plastic, whether it’s in the form of bags, bottles or packaging. These throwaway items may seem convenient in the short term, but we can make more thoughtful choices for our planet’s future.

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