Conservation & Science

World leaders commit to conservation at first U.N. Ocean Conference

Today, June 8, is World Oceans Day. And there may be nowhere on Earth that offers more hope for the global ocean than at the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York City.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy-Secretary-General of the United Nations (left) and Catherine Pollard, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly explore Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibits via virtual reality in the Seafood Watch tent at the Ocean Festival in New York City. Photo by © OPGA/Ariana Lindquist

This morning at U.N. Headquarters, actor and ocean activist Leonardo DiCaprio called on the world’s nations to take action for our ocean. Director James Cameron presented a powerful short film by his Avatar Alliance Foundation, “What Would the Ocean Say?” And Adidas executive Eric Liedtke said his company aims to eliminate virgin plastic fiber from its supply chain.

In other words, people from across all sectors of society are coming together to address the most pressing challenges facing our global ocean. Pioneering chemist and astronaut Cady Coleman put the challenge this way: “We are, all of us, the crew of Spaceship Earth. This is our charter, and we must do the work.”

The power of partnership

A delegation from Monterey Bay Aquarium is in New York City this week to help do that work. We’re partnering with organizations, governments and businesses to reduce plastic pollution, address ocean acidification and improve the sustainability of global fisheries and aquaculture.

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Boats cruise along New York City’s East River in Lower Manhattan as part of the Ocean March on June 4, 2017.

That spirit of partnership is the heart and the promise of the U.N. Ocean Conference. “I’m sure that you’re aware that the ocean is in deep trouble,” said Peter Thomson, president of the U.N. General Assembly. “The good news is that we’re working on solutions.”

Building up to the conference, the UN invited organizations, communities, agencies and businesses to register their ocean action pledges. The Aquarium is involved with nearly a dozen of these voluntary commitments, working with partners worldwide to support conservation efforts at the core of our mission. Among them: Read more…

Voices for change: Spreading the word on sustainable seafood

Twenty food experts—chefs, culinary instructors, media and writers—gathered around a table, brainstorming about what it means to make an impact.

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Blue Ribbon Task Force members swap ideas at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“Changing minds,” someone called out.

“Inspiring action,” said another.

The 20 are members of the Aquarium’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, a group of 63 culinarians who are actively promoting sustainable seafood nationwide. Each year, a subset of the Task Force meets in Monterey to learn, swap ideas with their peers, and get inspired.

Sheila Bowman, the Aquarium’s Manager of Culinary and Strategic Initiatives, runs the program. “Task Force members come from a variety of culinary fields. They include chefs, educators, food media and others,” she explains.

“What unites them is that they are all the kind of person who speaks out. Rather than just working in their kitchens or at their desks, they’re actually out in public and on social media, talking about sustainable seafood and doing something about it.”

The Task Force convened alongside the Aquarium’s Sustainable Foods Institute in mid-September. Read more…

White House honors sustainable seafood champions

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Nominee Mary Sue Milliken serves Alaska Bairdi crab passionfruit aguachile at the Champions of Change reception.

This week, the White House named 12 “Champions of Change for Sustainable Seafood.” The awards recognize the people at the heart of America’s seafood industry—the fishermen, business owners, entrepreneurs, chefs and coastal leaders—who work tirelessly to support both the economic and ecological viability of our nation’s fisheries.

Thanks to their efforts and strong federal oversight, the U.S. remains a global model of seafood sustainability.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is pleased to count several of the winners and nominees among our Seafood Watch Business and Restaurant Partners, Blue Ribbon Task Force members and other collaborators. Working with Seafood Watch, they help raise consumer awareness about seafood sustainability and push for improvements in the supply chain.

Read more…

Julie Packard: A bold vision for ocean health

Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard, who also sits on the board of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, offered a powerful vision of hope for the future of the ocean Friday morning at the third Our Ocean Conference convened by Secretary of State John Kerry  in Washington, D.C.

Julie Packard at Our Ocean 2016
Julie Packard at Our Ocean 2016

Julie shared the stage with other leading ocean philanthropists as she announced the Packard Foundation’s five-year, $550 million commitment to advance ocean science, protection and effective management. She held up Monterey Bay as an example of the transformation that’s possible in ocean health with an investment of time and energy to shape a thriving future for this vital living system.

For all their success in driving environmental improvements on land, foundations and philanthropists “over time we realized something was missing—the ‘other’ three-quarters of the planet, 99% of living space on Earth and the most prominent feature on this planet: the ocean,” Julie said.

Lunge-feeding humpback whales in Monterey Bay. Photo by Tyson Rininger
Lunge-feeding humpback whales in Monterey Bay. Photo by Tyson Rininger

Monterey Bay demonstrates—in dramatic fashion—what’s possible, she said. Its whales, sea otters and elephant seals were hunted to near-extinction, and the sardines that put Cannery Row on the map disappeared in “one of history’s most famous tales of fishery collapse.”

The wildlife is back, the bay’s ecosystems are robust, “Monterey Bay is now one of most studied pieces of ocean on the planet and California continues to be an incubator for ocean and climate solutions,” Julie said.

Read more…

Building bridges across an ocean to save a species

From a human perspective, the ocean is mind-bogglingly vast, deep and mysterious. Many of us live along the coast, or visit it on vacation, but few have experienced the high seas. We may not think much about marine life until it’s on our plates.

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Chef Ed Kenney

But this week Ed Kenney, a Hawaii-based celebrity chef and a member of the Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, called on people to rethink our appetite for one particular fish: Pacific bluefin tuna. These huge, fast predators, which migrate thousands of miles across the Earth’s largest ocean, are now down to less than 3 percent of their historical abundance due to overfishing.

“We chefs must take Pacific bluefin off our menus now, and give these powerful fish a chance to rebound,” Kenney writes on the National Geographic Ocean Views blog.

The Aquarium shares his concerns. For years, our scientists have been working to unravel the mysteries of the fish itself, by studying live bluefin in the lab, keeping them in our Open Sea exhibit, and tracking them in the wild.

We’ve learned a lot about the movement of Pacific bluefin by tagging more than 1,400 fish off the coast of California. But, mysteriously, not one of these individuals has made it back across the Pacific to spawn in the Sea of Japan.

Read more…

Collaboration for conservation in Baja California

In the coastal habitats of Baja California, life thrives on the edge of desert sands and sapphire seas. Our newest special exhibition, ¡Viva Baja! Life on the Edge, opened on March 19, featuring the incredible creatures and habitats of this narrow Mexican peninsula.

But we’re not just exhibiting the splendors of Baja’s rugged 800-mile coastline. We’re also taking a lead role, working with colleagues here and in Mexico, to safeguard it.

Close ties with Mexican researchers

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A male azure parrotfish hangs with tangs, sturgeons and a golden grouper off Cabo Pulmo. Photo by @underwaterpat

The Aquarium works with several universities in Baja—including El Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas (CICIMAR) and Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE)—to study key marine species, such as white sharks and and mahi-mahi (also known as dorado).

“There’s been this growth in how we approach other countries and also meet our needs as an aquarium,” says John O’Sullivan, the Aquarium’s director of collections

We’ve been tagging juvenile white sharks in Southern California since 2002, documenting seasonal migrations of these young fish between coastal waters in the United States and those on Baja’s Pacific coast.

Read more…

Closing the loop on food production

What do worms, carp and lettuce have in common? They’re all part of an experimental food facility aiming to produce both fish and vegetables with virtually no waste, and very few inputs.

The aquarium’s Conservation & Science team recently visited TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation, an 1,800-acre cattle ranch in Pescadero, California. Founded by investor, philanthropist and climate/energy activist Tom Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, TomKat has become a cutting-edge model of sustainable agriculture. Ranch managers maximize the carbon-absorbing powers of grasslands by carefully migrating their cows across the land, producing TomKat’s signature LeftCoast GrassFed beef.

TomKat fish food flow chartBut TomKat doesn’t stop at ranching; it’s constantly experimenting with other forms of eco-friendly food production. A few of us took the opportunity to tour Symbi Biological, which takes its name from the principle of symbiosis: a mutually beneficial relationship between living beings. That’s a good description for aquaponics, in which farmed fish produce waste that fertilizes hydroponic plants, and the plants return the favor by filtering the water for the fish.

Bins full of worms

Doug Millar is the mastermind of Symbi, which runs under parent company InKa Biospheric. Wearing a weathered cowboy hat atop a 6-foot-3 frame, Millar takes us first to see worm bins filled with manure from the ranch’s horses. Various species of squirmy residents, from earthworms to mealworms, turn the poop into nutrient-rich compost that helps fertilize the pasture.

Worms enrich the compost that fertilizes grazing land. They, in turn, become food for fish in the aquaponic farm tanks.
Worms enrich the compost that fertilizes grazing land. They, in turn, become food for fish in the aquaponic farm tanks.

But compost is just a side benefit; it’s the worms Millar is after. They’re part of his special recipe for homemade fish food. Another ingredient is crickets, which he breeds in a hydroponic tent he calls “the hopper hopper.” The bugs live in plastic-lidded tubs outfitted with dirt trays (where the larvae incubate) and stacked egg cartons, which separate the hatched crickets so they don’t eat each other. A low-tech temperature controller keeps the tent toasty; the ranch’s solar panels help offset the energy.

What about food for the crickets? Millar makes that, too. He cultivates spirulina algae in a standard home fish tank, dries it out and feeds the powder to the bugs, turning the transparent baby crickets green.

Food for the fish

The crickets, worms and spirulina provide protein for the goldfish carp, which live in deep, round tanks in the pump room. The species isn’t on the typical American menu, but Millar’s crew once harvested about 100 and had a party, preparing them in a variety of ways. “They taste a little pondy,” Millar admits. Next time, he says, he’ll try moving the fish to a clearing tank for a couple of days before harvest.

The fish-poop-fertilized wastewater flows through PVC pipes into the crown jewel of Symbi’s operation: the greenhouse. Bright bursts of butter lettuce and bundles of basil with super-sized leaves float in polystyrene panels on aquaponic grow beds, their roots reaching through holes into the nutrient-rich water.

Compost is returned to the fields to nurture grasslands that feed the TomKat beef herd.
Compost is returned to the fields to nurture grasslands that feed the TomKat beef herd.

From there, the water – cleaned by the plant roots – cycles back to the fish tanks. The recirculation adds up to real conservation: Millar says it only takes 1.5 gallons to produce a head of Symbi lettuce. Pretty impressive, compared with an average of 13.6 gallons for a one-pound head grown on soil.

The circle is unbroken

Ranch staff serve the produce at the events they host, and Millar donates the rest to Pescadero Middle and High School to be served in the cafeteria. The aquaponics operation also produces barley, which is nutrient-rich feed for the ranch animals. And when the horses digest the barley? You guessed it: More manure for the worms, closing the loop on this sustainable food system.

Several farmed fish on the aquarium’s Seafood Watch “Best Choices” list are raised in similar recirculated aquaculture systems, in which wastewater is treated and then re-used.

“Because you’re treating the waste and capturing the waste stream, the environmental impacts we found were relatively minor compared with other production systems,” says Brian Albaum, business engagement manager for Seafood Watch.

Green-listed seafood produced with this water-wise method include U.S. farmed tilapia, barramundi, sturgeon and yellow perch. Learn more about Seafood Watch recommendations, including these farmed “Best Choices,” at www.seafoodwatch.org.

Kera Abraham Panni

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