As 2012 winds down, we are taking a look at all of the amazing things our dedicated team of staff and volunteers and like-minded conservationists were able to accomplish this year! From a full year of marine animal rescue and rehabilitation to important state and federal legislation, this year has given us hope for the future of our amazing blue planet.
For our last Thoughtful Thursday of 2012, we’re giving you our top 12 conservation moments of 2012:
Every year, the Aquarium’s new marketing campaign requires updated signage, including vinyl banners to adorn our building and our respective cities. Reluctant to simply throw these materials away, our International Conservation Committee decided to transform these old banners into reusable tote bags! The project has been so popular with our own staff members, we’re having trouble keeping them on the shelves of our gift shop! This project is reflective of the Aquarium’s constant efforts to repurpose, reuse, and recycle materials.
National Aquarium has long been engaged in the restoration of our community’s coastal regions. In recent years, we have been focusing our efforts on regions like Fort McHenry, where volunteers and staff have removed more than 500,000 pieces of marine debris. This year, as part of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, our Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) joined hundreds of thousands of volunteers cleaning and restoring both coasts. Preserving our region is not only critical for the marine ecosystems, but these wetlands also help to teach students the importance of local wildlife and habitat restoration.
This year, we were fortunate to have the 5gyres team visit both our Washington, DC, and Baltimore venues to share their incredible story with the public and National Aquarium staff. A conservation organization focused on raising awareness of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” 5gyres biked 1,400 miles down the Atlantic coast to spread the word about marine debris and what we can do to clean it.
This summer marked another great year in Atlantic dolphin population monitoring. Our Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) team and more than 100 volunteers made the annual trip to Ocean City in July to record dolphin sightings, an important indicator of reproduction rates and ocean health. This year’s count of 37 was surprisingly low in comparison to 2011′s 107, likely a result of weather, unusual swells, and prey availability.
We were humbled and grateful to receive RBC’s support for our Chesapeake Bay Initiative (CBI). Thanks to this $130,000 grant, the largest ever received from a corporation specifically designated for conservation efforts, our program will continue to engage others in protecting and restoring the habitats throughout the Chesapeake watershed. Wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay are being lost at an alarming rate as a result of coastal development, rising sea levels, and damage from non-native species.
CBI helps restore and protect wetland habitats, increasing public awareness of watershed issues and providing watershed stewardship actions for citizen volunteers, youth, and community groups.
In the week leading up to Hurricane Sandy, our MARP team was surveying the north end of the Assateague Island National Seashore. They discovered a sea turtle nest that had been incubating in the sand since late July – this was the first confirmed viable sea turtle nest ever seen in the area. Considering the incoming high winds and waves from Sandy, our team excavated the nest and one live hatchling for incubation at our Animal Care Center. Our team was able to care for the hatchling and after six weeks, it was transported to North Carolina for release!
We were so proud to be named the first attraction to become part of Maryland’s Green Travel program. This statewide program recognizes tourism businesses committed to reducing their environmental impact. The program encourages environmentally friendly practices in all aspects of the state’s tourism industry and promotes Maryland as a green destination for the eco-minded traveler.
In late spring, National Aquarium staff joined its partners from the Waterfront Partnership Baltimore, Biohabitats, Living Classrooms Foundation, Blue Water Baltimore, and Irvine Nature Center to launch another 2,000 square feet of floating wetlands into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. This project is part of the Healthy Harbor Initiative, a regional effort to make the harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020.
This year marked the 40th anniversary of the federal Water Pollution Control Act – the nation’s first law for protecting our most precious, irreplaceable resource. Arguably, no environmental legislation has had as much of an influence on our daily lives and health. Thanks to the Clean Water Act, huge strides have been made to protect our health and the health of the environment.
ACT! spent most of June and October at the Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head and Stump Neck Annex (Indian Head, MD). Volunteers planted 45,897 native wetland grasses along the Potomac River, restoring more than 4,000 feet of shoreline! The Aquarium has partnered with NSF Indian Head since 2008, restoring sections of shoreline each year.
National Aquarium, along with our partners at the Humane Society, Oceana, and the National Wildlife Federation, has been a leading supporter of legislation in Maryland to hinder the market for shark fins by prohibiting their possession and sale. Similar to making the trade of elephant ivory illegal, such legislation would ensure that shark finning and unsustainable fishing practices are not tolerated. We hope that 2013 will see an international commitment to protect these amazing animals.
Earlier this month, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission made history by voting to limit the catch of this crucial species of fish, the menhaden, by 20 percent. Commonly referred to as “the most important fish in the sea,” menhaden serves as a critical food source for much of the wildlife in the Atlantic’s marine ecosystems. By putting a catch limit on these fish, the ASMFC gave conservationists hope that enough fish can stay in the water to fulfill their ecological role.
Although it is important to take the time to celebrate 2012′s accomplishments, we know there is still much work to be done to preserve and protect our oceans and our planet. We hope you’ll join our efforts in the new year! To find out how to get involved, visit aqua.org/care.