Conservation & Science

Honoring a new slate of California Ocean Champions in Sacramento

On March 19, 2019, hundreds of ocean advocates gathered in Sacramento to discuss ocean and coastal issues with state decision-makers during Ocean Day California. In the evening, the Aquarium hosted its tenth annual awards reception for about 200 state officials and legislators, their staff and ocean leaders from across the state. 

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Guests enjoy the spread by Tataki Sushi & Sake Bar, featuring Seafood Watch Best Choice fish and vegan sushi.

Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard presented four state legislators with our 2019 Ocean Champion Awards, honoring their significant contributions to California’s ocean and coastal leadership. The award is part of the aquarium’s work to inspire and inform government decision-makers to take science-based action on behalf of the ocean.

“California has become a beacon of hope for the nation, and for the world,” Julie said. “Our state is living proof that environmental and economic health are inextricably linked.”

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Disability access and ocean conservation: Stronger together

(Clic aquí para leer en español)

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.”

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Champion of a plastic-free ocean earns Paul Walker Youth Award

We’ve proudly shared the story of Shelby O’Neil, a Teen Conservation Leader at the Monterey Bay Aquarium who’s been making a huge different in the campaign to reduce ocean plastic pollution.

Shelby O’Neil receives the Paul Walker Youth Award from Brandon Birtell of the Paul Walker Foundation and Aquarium Chief Operating Officer Cynthia Vernon.

She’s been recognized many times for her work, including as a guest speaker at Dreamforce and at Ocean Heroes panel during the Global Climate Action Summit. She’s one of the first class of Ocean Heroes recognized by the Aquarium, and earned a Girl Scout Gold Award for her work to raise awareness about the problem of single-use plastic – notably plastic straws.

Now 17 and a senior at San Benito High School, she’s the 2018 recipient of the Paul Walker Youth Award, presented to young people who share the late actor’s love of the ocean and his commitment to take an active role in safeguarding ocean health. Through the Paul Walker Foundation created by Paul’s daughter Meadow, Shelby will receive a college scholarship to support her studies, so she can contribute in new ways to ocean and conservation initiatives.

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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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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 join forces to combat plastic pollution

Nineteen aquariums across the United States have joined forces in a new Aquarium Conservation Partnership to address one of the gravest threats facing ocean and freshwater animals: plastic pollution.

The partners just launched a nationwide consumer campaign, “In Our Hands,” and made their own business commitment to drive a shift away from single-use plastic among aquarium visitors, in their communities and beyond.

Julie Packard sports a reusable shopping bag.

“The public trusts aquariums to do what’s right for the health of the ocean and for ocean wildlife,” said Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “We’re just beginning to understand the full impacts of ocean plastic pollution on ecosystems, marine life and human health. But we already know enough to say that now is the time to act.”

Aquariums have replaced plastic straws with paper straws. Many also sell reusable glass and metal straws in their gift stores.

Through the “In Our Hands” campaign, the aquariums hope to empower their 20 million visitors, along with millions more people in their communities. The campaign focuses on innovative alternatives, and includes a website that encourages viewers learn more about the growing plastic pollution problem and be a part of the solution.

All 19 partner aquariums are shifting away from single-use plastic in their own operations. As the campaign launches, they’ve already cut out all plastic straws and single-use plastic bags. They have also committed to significantly reduce or eliminate plastic beverage bottles by December 2020, and showcase innovative alternatives to single-use plastic in their facilities. Read more…

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