Conservation & Science

California Action Alert: Help us turn the tide against ocean plastic pollution!

UPDATE Sept. 16, 2019: Unfortunately, the State Legislature did not vote on the California Plastic Pollution Reduction Act in 2019.  However, leaders can pick the bills back up in 2020. We are confident that there will continue to be momentum next year to advance this legislation. Please stay tuned! 

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Monterey Bay is celebrated around the world for its beautiful ocean views and photogenic wildlife, like sea otters, sardines and whales. But even these protected waters are more polluted than they seem.

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Researchers found plastic in the bodies of pelagic red crabs, which are food for many ocean animals, from the surface to the deep sea. Photo © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Patrick Webster

Aquarium and MBARI scientists recently found plastic throughout the Monterey Bay water column, from the surface to the deep sea. And most of it matched the same type of plastic used in the single-use products we discard every day, like water bottles, takeout food containers and other packaging.

If we don’t change course, the amount of plastic flowing into the ocean is projected to double in just six years. But California is in a position to get out in front of this challenge and lead the U.S. toward a cleaner future.

The California Plastic Pollution Reduction Act sets a target of reducing 75 percent of packaging waste—and the most polluting single-use plastic products—by 2030. And it sets criteria to make sure that what remains is increasingly recycled or composted.

Join us in urging your California legislators to vote YES on the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act.

This bill is among the most visionary approaches to solid waste legislation in the state’s history. It tackles the growing problem of plastic pollution in our ocean and waterways, and inspires innovation to “design out” waste from the products and packages we use every day.

Read more…

Disability access and ocean conservation: Stronger together

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Last year, the Aquarium called on California legislators to pass the Straws On Request billAs that law takes effect—and Monterey Bay communities adopt new local laws to cut back on single-use plastic—we’re working with our colleagues in the Disability community to ensure that anyone who needs a plastic straw can still access one.

In today’s guest post, Allie Cannington of the Disability Organizing (DO) Network discusses the results of a new study assessing the suitability of alternatives to plastic single-use straws for people who need them. DOnetwork is a program of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, funded through the Department of Rehabilitation and State Independent Living Council.


As of January 1, 2019, full-service restaurants in California may only provide straws when customers ask for them. At the same time, some cities and counties across the United States are passing local laws restricting straws and other single-use plastic materials.

At first glance, straw bans—intended to slow the rate of plastic pollution, particularly in our ocean—may seem beneficial for everyone. And yet, they can also threaten the independence of many people with disabilities.

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Russell Rawlings, left, tests a reusable stainless steel straw with a silicone tip as part of the Disability Organizing Network’s study.

Russell Rawlings, a Disabled advocate from Sacramento, reminds us that straws are an assistive technology tool. The AT Industry Association defines assistive technology as “any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.” Other well-known examples of assistive technology include wheelchairs, hearing aids and speech-to-text technology.

Hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities rely on straws as assistive technology every day. Historically and to this day, single-use plastic straws have provided people with disabilities access to independence, community integration and public life.

“Bottom line, straws enable me to access hydration with dignity,” Russell says. “Would it be possible to hydrate without them? Only if I had assistance. Do I feel the same level of dignity in a public setting without them? Absolutely not.”

Read more…

Straw Woman: Our California policy expert breaks down the Straws On Request bill

This month, we’re asking Aquarium visitors and social media followers in California to support the Straws On Request bill—and join the movement to combat ocean plastic pollution. We sat down with Amy Wolfrum, our California Ocean Conservation Policy Manager, to discuss the bill and how it connects to the Aquarium’s larger ocean conservation mission.

UPDATE 9.20.18We did it! The California Legislature passed the Straws On Request bill, AB 1884, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law. Beginning January 1, 2019, dine-in restaurants across the state will provide a plastic straw only to customers who ask for one.

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California Ocean Conservation Policy Manager Amy Wolfrum

What’s the Straws On Request bill?

California Assembly Bill (AB) 1884, sometimes called the Straws On Request bill, would require that dine-in, full-service restaurants across the state provide straws only when customers ask for them. Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon introduced the bill in response to a growing body of science showing that plastic pollution is a real problem for our planet—especially the ocean.

Why is plastic such a problem for the ocean?

It’s estimated that nearly 9 million U.S. tons of plastic enters the global ocean each year. That’s like dumping a garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute! And if people around the world don’t make changes, the rate of plastic flowing into the sea is expected to double by 2025.

Plastic can now be found in almost every marine habitat on Earth—from polar ice to deep ocean trenches. Marine animals are harmed by plastic pollution in two ways: when they accidentally eat it, and when they become entangled in it.

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March for the Ocean on World Oceans Day weekend

M4O-DATEToday, thousands of people wearing blue will form a human wave in Washington, D.C.—and in cities  around the world—during the first March for the Ocean.

It’s a show of solidarity for the global sea that unites us, and on whose health our survival depends. Participants are marching to oppose offshore oil and gas drilling, help protect coastal communities from rising seas and other climate disasters, and end the flow of plastic pollution from land to sea.

March for the Ocean is organized by the Blue Frontier Campaign and supported by over 100 partner organizations, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In California, supporters will march in San Francisco and clean up a beach in Playa del Rey. Click here to find an event near you.

If you can’t attend a march in person, you can join the livestream at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time / 1:30 p.m. Eastern; speak up on social media and tag #MarchForTheOcean; and wear blue. To learn more, visit www.marchforocean.com.


Featured image: Rose Atoll National Marine Monument. Photo by Ian Shive/USFWS via CC BY-NC 2.0. This image was cropped.

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.

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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.

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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.

Read more…

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