Conservation & Science

A time machine to understand ocean health

For scientists seeking to understand how the ocean is changing, perhaps the ideal research instrument would be a time machine. Absent such technology, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been working to create the next best thing. It’s a new facility called the Ocean Memory Laboratory.

The white-tailed tropic bird was one of eight species from the North Pacific included in the Ocean Memory Lab study. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For the lab’s inaugural project, researchers have put together a dataset of the feeding habits of eight species of seabirds over the span of almost 130 years. They analyzed archived feathers dating as far back as 1890, using a technique called compound-specific stable isotope analysis, to better understand how the birds’ diets shifted in response to factors ranging from competition with humans to the changing climate.

“In the grand scheme of things, in our field of science, even 10 years of data is encouraging,” says Tyler Gagne, an assistant research scientist at the Aquarium and lead author of the new study, published February 14 in Science Advances. “This is a 130-year-long dataset, which is really amazing.”

Data, data everywhere

The study exemplifies the promise of the Ocean Memory Lab—the brainchild of Aquarium science director Dr. Kyle Van Houtan, who co-authored the publication together with two colleagues based in Hawaii, Dr. David Hyrenbach of Hawaii Pacific University and Molly E. Hagemann of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

Dr. Kyle Van Houtan conceived the Ocean Memory Lab as a way to learn about past ocean conditions and inform current conservation policy.

Identifying novel sources of long-term data is at the heart of the lab’s mission, Kyle says, because conservation projects often lack an informed baseline of ecosystem health to compare against.

“What are the conservation targets? What are we managing for? How do we know when we’re done?” he asks. “We often don’t have enough data or a sufficiently long-term record to provide informed answers to those questions.”

The solution, as Kyle sees it, may lie within the creatures themselves—or more precisely, in the chemistry of their tissues, which can record what they were eating, as well as clues about the surrounding ocean. Read more…

Fish carbon-era: How our fossil fuel habit is changing the future of seafood

Jim Barry and deep-sea urchin
MBARI researcher Jim Barry handles a sea urchin in his lab. Photo © 2009 MBARI / Todd Walsh

In the early days of ocean acidification research, experiments were simple, says benthic ecologist Jim Barry. Some involved plopping fish into containers of high-carbon seawater. This sort of lab test allowed researchers to observe animals’ physiological responses to our ocean’s changing chemistry.

These days, many studies attempt to address the more difficult question of how acidification and ocean warming might affect interconnected marine species. “What you can’t learn from tests of fish in a jar,” Barry says, “is how climate change affects the way energy moves through a food web.”

That line of inquiry may start in the pages of scientific journals, but it leads somewhere more intimate: our dinner plates.

Read more…

Japan sets its sights on sustainable seafood and 2020 Olympics

Japan, one of the world’s largest consumers of seafood, is moving to embrace sustainable practices for fishing and aquaculture in advance of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Monterey Bay Aquarium Chief Conservation Officer Margaret Spring was invited last month to speak with Japanese business leaders about the growing global movement toward seafood sustainability. Here are her impressions from her trip.

Chief Conservation Officer Margaret Spring was the keynote speaker for the sustainable seafood conference in Tokyo.

I recently returned from the 3rd annual Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Symposium hosted by Nikkei Ecology and co-hosted by Seafood Legacy. I was honored to be asked to keynote the event and eager to learn about progress in this seafood-loving nation as global awareness grows for addressing ocean conservation and sustainable use of marine resources.

In 2016 the United Nations adopted a new sustainable development goal specifically for the ocean, and earlier this year hosted a first-ever global conference dedicated to ocean. At that conference, nations endorsed an ambitious target of ending overfishing and illegal fishing by 2020, the same year that Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics. In August, just after the UN Ocean Conference, the fishing nations of the Pacific, with full support of Japan, agreed to set harvest limits to bring Pacific bluefin tuna back from its currently depleted state. And last year, Japan ratified the global enforcement treaty, the Port State Measures Agreement. I was hopeful. Read more…

Julie Packard: It’s time to invest in the ocean

Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard is a member of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a bipartisan organization of ocean leaders that makes policy recommendations to support continued U.S. leadership in protection of ocean resources. She offers her thoughts on the Initiative’s 2017 Ocean Action Agenda, which was released on March 7.

Executive Director Julie Packard (Photo © Corey Arnold)

The health of Earth’s vast ocean system will determine the future prosperity of the human species—and our very survival. Today it’s more urgent than ever for us to invest in the living ocean. That’s why the Aquarium has made it a priority to advance policies here and abroad that will protect critical ocean resources.

Through Seafood Watch and other initiatives, we’re a global leader in the sustainable seafood movement. We’re working with the U.S. government to end illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, and to provide more transparency in global supply chains to assure that seafood comes from well-managed sources.

We’re bringing sound science to international forums that address big challenges like climate change and ocean acidification. We’re advocating for action on many fronts to advance ocean health and to ensure that the world community manages our ocean in ways that preserve its productivity, now and into the future.

Clouds of reef fish thrive amid healthy corals in the protected waters of French Frigate Shoals, in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The good news is: In the United States, we have a solid record of progress and, now, an updated roadmap for the future. The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative on which I serve—a bipartisan group of senior ocean leaders from industry, academia and civil society, as well as former senior government officials—has just released its 2017 Ocean Action Agenda, with priorities based on practical experience and success stories. Read more…

White House honors sustainable seafood champions

54dbc67b-cc73-4d51-a824-f88d578d929b
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…

A global spotlight on sustainable seafood

jenn-at-our-ocean
Jennifer Kemmerly addresses the Our Ocean Conference on Sept. 15, 2016.

Today and tomorrow, Secretary of State John Kerry—a true ocean champion—will host the third annual Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C. He has invited leaders from around the globe, representing government, industry, nonprofit organizations and emerging young voices, to gather at the U.S. State Department for this significant ocean conservation event.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s own Jennifer Kemmerly, our director of global fisheries and aquaculture, joined Secretary Kerry on the world stage  to spotlight our leadership in the global sustainable seafood movement.

Read more…

Protecting Dory

TR16-268
A clown anemonefish on exhibit in the Aquarium’s Splash Zone galleries.

Tiny orange fish with white stripes dart between the waving tentacles of a stinging anemone. Kids in the Aquarium’s Splash Zone galleries don’t pay much attention to the sign identifying them as clown anemonefish — they already know them by a different name. “Nemo!”

Thirteen years after the release of Finding Nemo, the lovable fish is back on the big screen. But the star of Finding Dory, the long-awaited sequel, is the forgetful blue tang who sets off to find her long-lost family. (“Dory!” is another common sound in our Splash Zone, as kids recognize the blue tangs on exhibit.)

Senior Aquarist Bret Grasse interacts with a giant Pacific octopus at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Senior Aquarist Bret Grasse interacts with a giant Pacific octopus at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The adventures of Dory, Nemo and their friends take them to the Marine Life Institute, a fictional aquarium and ocean conservation center inspired, in part, by Monterey Bay Aquarium. Disney•Pixar animators worked with Aquarium staff for several years, researching details that would help bring the film’s settings and characters—like Hank, the friendly “setpipus”—to life.

Read more…

%d bloggers like this: