Conservation & Science

A year of hope for the global ocean

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:

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The Aquarium and our partners campaigned across the state for Prop 67.

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.

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Our best Conservation & Science stories of 2016

It’s been an exciting year for ocean conservation at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

We’ve shared how our care for the animals in our living collections—including snowy ploverscomb jellies, ocean sunfish and Pacific seahorses—contibutes to the conservation of their wild kin.

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The Aquarium helps rehabilitate threatened Western snowy plovers.

We’ve visited the Canadian cousins of Monterey Bay’s sea otters, explored how sea otters use tools, and assisted scientists working to decode the sea otter genome.

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:

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A white shark approaches schooling sardines.

10. Camera to Crack a White Shark MysteryOur 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.”

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California votes YES on Prop 67 for a plastic-free ocean

Thanks to your support, California voters have passed Proposition 67, upholding the first-in-the-nation law to ban single-use carryout plastic bags statewide.

California’s bag ban would have gone into effect in July 2015—but instead, out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers forced it to a vote. The plastic bag industry pumped millions of dollars into their effort to defeat Prop 67, outspending supporters almost 2-to-1.

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Aquarium California Ocean Policy Manager Letise LaFeir, at right, stumps for Prop 67 with our partners.

Fortunately, the majority of Californians voted YES for a plastic-free ocean. The state’s voters have also rejected Proposition 65—a deceptive measure placed on the ballot by the same plastic bag manufacturers who forced the referendum.

Finally, our state bag ban can kick into gear and serve as a model for the rest of the nation. The ban will go into immediate effect once the Secretary of State certifies the final election results in December.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium supported Prop 67 and opposed Prop 65. 

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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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What’s the deal with plastic pollution?

You’re probably hearing a lot about plastic bags and why Californians should vote YES on Prop 67, but the issue is not just about plastic bags. It’s about plastic pollution, and it affects all of us.

For example, did you know that plastic pollution is found in the ocean at every depth, and most marine life can’t escape it? Or that young people are fighting back on this issue—and some of their ideas are wildly successful?

Monterey Bay Aquarium explores this issue in our new podcast series, “Breaking Down:  The Problem with Plastic Pollution.”  The six-part series covers the impacts of plastic pollution—from threats to humans and wildlife to how the issue has energized students and policymakers.

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Going to school on plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is everywhere—especially stuff like coffee cup lids and plastic bags, which are used just once before they’re thrown away. You’ve probably come across plastic trash while walking your dog or on your way to the coffee shop. For teachers and students, encounters with plastic trash often happen in the steps between classrooms.

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Students ask questions during a talk on the importance of recycling at the Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit.

Working with Monterey Bay Aquarium, they’re doing something about it. For the last five years, teachers and students enrolled in the Aquarium’s Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit have been on a mission: to be a part of the plastic pollution solution.

The Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit began in 2012, after teachers approached the Aquarium’s Education Department staff, eager to learn more about the conservation issues surrounding single-use plastic. They kept finding plastic litter on and around their school campuses—but instead of seeing an insurmountable problem, they saw a teaching opportunity.

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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).

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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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