Archive for the 'Conservation' Category



Legislative Re-cap: 90 Days in Annapolis

government affairs and policy update national aquarium

Yesterday marked Sine Die, the adjournment of the General Assembly’s 2014 legislative session in Annapolis.

It has been a busy session, with 1,117 bills introduced in the House of Delegates and another 1,555 bills introduced in the Senate. Approximately one-third of those bills were passed before midnight and will eventually be signed into law by the Governor.

The National Aquarium’s Government Affairs team has been busy supporting a handful of select bills. Here is a brief look at how a few of our bills fared this session:

HB 118 | Task Force to Study the Impact of Ocean Acidification on State Waters – PASSED
The legislature gave final approval to a bill that will create a task force to analyze the potential effects of ocean acidification in State waters and State fisheries. This task force would report back to the General Assembly with recommendations on potential strategies to mitigate the effects of ocean acidification by 2015. The task force will consist of members from the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of the Environment, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the National Aquarium as well as representatives from the watermen community, the Senate and the House of Delegates.

HB 296/SB 336 | Designation of New Wildlands – PASSED
Bills expanding State-designated wildlands from the current 29 areas to 38 areas (from 44,000 acres to 65,000 acres) passed both chambers and are now on the Governor’s desk. The bills seek to legally protect certain wilderness areas from development, cars and other impacts, which are legislative priorities for Governor Martin O’Malley.

$2.12 million allocated for National Aquarium in the Capital Budget
The legislature increased funding from what the Governor originally included in his Capital Budget ($1.5 million to $2.12 million) to fund critical infrastructure improvements and the renovation of the Aquarium’s Maryland: Mountains to the Sea exhibit.

$474,601 allocated for National Aquarium’s Education Programs
The Governor level-funded the State Aided Institution (SAI) portion of the Maryland State Department of Education’s budget. The Aquarium will receive $474,601 toward education programs to help bring tens of thousands of Maryland schoolchildren, teachers and chaperones to the Aquarium completely free of charge.

Polluted Runoff Bills | DEAD IN COMMITTEE, Budget Language Added
Twenty different bills were introduced to repeal or weaken the 2012 stormwater law this legislative session – and none made if out of committee. Language was added to the budget that allows Maryland’s Department of the Environment to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Carroll or Frederick counties to establish an alternative source of funding for meeting their polluted runoff goals.

HB 913 | Food Fish and Shellfish: Labeling and Identification Requirements – DEAD IN COMMITTEE
A bill that would require restaurants and grocery stores to label seafood with the common name of fish/shellfish and prohibited mislabeling did not receive a vote in the House Environmental Matters Committee. The bill would also have required restaurants and grocery stores to identify the origin of a crab product by state or country of origin.

SB 394 | Statewide Container Recycling Refund Program – DEAD IN COMMITTEE
The bill would have established a fully refundable 5-cent container deposit on beverage containers sold in Maryland. The bill would also have established redemption centers across the State. If it had passed, the bill had the potential to increase Maryland’s recycling rate of beverage containers from 22 to 76 percent.

SB 707/HB 718 | Community Cleanup and Greening Act of 2014 – DEAD IN COMMITTEE
A bill that would have enabled county governments to pass county bag-fee laws that require retail and grocery stores to charge customers at least a 5-cent fee for paper and plastic bags did not receive a vote in either the House or Senate committees.

While this year’s legislative session in Maryland may be coming to a close, our Government Affairs team will be working diligently over the next 275 days to raise awareness and support for these important pieces of conservation legislation!

To stay updated on our efforts throughout the year, be sure to sign up for our legislative updates

sarah elfreth government affairs manager national aquarium

It’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week!

In celebration of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, we’re highlighting just a few of the amazing ways our volunteers have gone above and beyond to help the National Aquarium fulfill our mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures!

The passion and dedication of our volunteers led them to log a record-setting 124,390 hours at the National Aquarium in 2013 – a four percent increase over 2012’s total volunteer hours! The 2013 hours come from more than 960 volunteers and represents a $2.87 million workplace value (equivalent to approximately 60 full-time positions).

The Aquarium volunteer team represents a wide range of experience, skills and backgrounds including aquarists, divers, lab assistants, clinical veterinarians and more. The volunteers do everything from assisting at the information desk and diving to grass plantings and animal rescues, and they vary as much as their job descriptions.

The majority of the volunteers are from Baltimore and the surrounding counties, but some traveled from as far away as California, New York, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Here are some major volunteer highlights from 2013:

  • The Jellies Aquarist program tripled its volunteer and service hours.
  • High school students logged close to 10,000 hours in two programs.
  • Volunteers contributed more than 2,000 hours of underwater maintenance for Dolphin Discovery.
  • Eastern Shore Animal Rescue volunteers doubled their service hours to 1,153 in stranding and outreach activities.

For more information about volunteer opportunities at the National Aquarium, visit aqua.org/volunteer.

Stay tuned for more volunteer highlights throughout the week and join the conversation online using #NVW14!

Reflecting On the 25 Years Since the Exxon Valdez Spill

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

Oil spills have been an on-going topic of interest to the public for centuries, but was rapidly thrust to the spotlight 25 years ago when the Exxon Valdez vessel grounded in Prince William Sound, Alaska and discharged 11 million gallons of crude oil.

**Images via Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

Despite a broadened awareness of environmental risks, more stringent regulations and increased safety methods, the efforts to decrease oil spills on a global level have been largely unsuccessful.

There are multi-disciplinary studies to quantify the effects of oil on marine and terrestrial ecosystems, the wildlife that inhabits those ecosystems and the social and economic impacts to communities.  The pictures of oiled wildlife from the Exxon Valdez spill, similar to the ones from the Deepwater Horizon spill a generation later, and the recent photos from last month’s Houston ship channel spill are devastating.

Kemp's Ridley BP Oil Spill

This Kemp’s Ridley turtle was recovered from the site of the Deep Horizon accident site on June 14, 2010. Photo via Carolyn Cole/LA Times.

The immediate threat to wildlife and the human communities that depend on healthy natural resources is obvious.  The long-term effects on our ecosystems (through direct exposure of through food chain interactions), while not as readily apparent, is equally concerning.  These emerging impacts are profound in any environment, but when the oil is released in a spawning or nursery area like the Gulf of Mexico, effects can be compounded and impact entire year classes of fish.  A recently published study found that even passing exposure to petroleum compounds can cause damages in developing embryos that may ultimately prove lethal months to years later.

Protecting wildlife from oil spill incidents, and subsequently responding to oiled animals are not easy tasks. While all plants and animals can be affected by oil spills, the most visible and easily accessible animals are typically those that are collected to be decontaminated and rehabilitated. Examples often include birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Oiled wildlife response is just one small part of the overall spill response.

Our Animal Rescue team ensures our preparedness to respond to oil spill events involving marine mammals or sea turtles in our area by participating in oil spill training and drills, maintaining internal protocols, and meeting with the Regional Response Team for our area (RRT III). RRT III is a group of federal, state and local organizations that oversee written plans for response to oil spill events within the region of Pennsylvania through Virginia. These plans, known as Area Contingency Plans, include information such as: environmentally sensitive species/areas, culturally sensitive areas, high risk locations and critical infrastructure.

Our dependence on fossils fuels ensures that there will always be a risk of oils spills. To mitigate for this risk we need to understand the true cost of this dependence and take responsibility for making better life style decisions in our daily routines.

Support and implementation of cleaner energy alternatives will decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and the risk of oil spill events.

national aquarium animal rescue expert

Celebrate Spring by Taking a Walk on the Wet Side!

national aquarium families expert update

As we enter “Earth Month,” let’s take some time to celebrate the one thing that all living things need – water! Now that Spring is (finally) in the air, animals that depend on the water are all around us and it’s a great time to get outside as a family to explore.

Before Your Hike

A water-themed family hike can connect children with the importance and beauty of water and remind us all that water is a shared resource, one that deserves our protection! Here are a few things to consider before hitting the trail:

  • Scope It Out - Learning about nature is about making careful observations. Scientists use spotting scopes or binoculars but children are right at home using two toilet paper tubes taped together to peer through. Children can practice spotting animals and natural objects by looking at items up close through the tube and then moving back and looking at it again. To focus their attention, ask questions like, Does it look the same? What do you think it feels like? What color is it?
  • Meet The Neighbors - Review common animals that might be found in your area and have your children guess what animals they expect to find on the hike. Free field guides and/or lists of local animals are available through your local Department of Natural Resources or library.
  • Mind Your Manners - Walk only on existing trails when near the water to help reduce erosion. Practice the 7 “Leave No Trace” principles.

During Your Hike

Experience a familiar park or hike in a new way by directing your gaze and questions around water: what kinds of animals live in water? Who spends time near the water and who lays eggs in water? Here are a few ideas to keep the conversation flowing:

  • Look in wet, muddy or moist areas, especially near puddles and stream banks. Along with bigger tracks, try to find smaller bird tracks. Look for tracks as they are easier to find and photograph well! You can encounter tracks from animals like: great blue herons, great egrets, deer and raccoons.
  • One of the easiest ways to see frog eggs is to listen for frog calls and look for temporary, shallow ponds. The eggs may be floating in shallow water or attached to sticks and plants underwater. As tempting as it may be to touch, only look and take pictures.

 After Your Hike

Once you’re home, find a large piece of cardboard or butcher paper and have the whole family participate in drawing a mural that includes all of the animals you found on your trek. As you’re drawing, ask questions like, Where do you think the water we saw came from? Where do you think it goes? Do you think we could help keep the water clean and healthy for the animals (and us)? What ideas do you have?

As the Spring weeks pass and you continue to explore the outdoors you can begin to compare and contrast your murals, giving you and your junior trekkers an idea of how diverse the habitat in our own backyards can be and how we can protect them!

national aquarium families expert heather doggett

An Update on Our Animal Rescue Patients

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

As you saw in last week’s update, 11 of our 19 sea turtle patients are stable and ready for release! We’re working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and officials from the state of Florida to set a release date for these animals!

In addition to our turtle patients ready for release, we do still have 8 active medical cases, and some of them have proven to be interesting challenges for our veterinary staff.

Here are updates on a few of our active cases!

Charlie

Charlie was previously diagnosed with an unknown mass near his heart. After his diagnosis, our veterinary staff prescribed an innovative treatment for Charlie – baby aspirin. He has been responding well to treatment, is eating well, and behaving normally.

national aquarium turtle charlie

A repeat echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) this week revealed that the mass is still present, though reduced in size. While Charlie is showing no clinical signs from the mass, his medical case will continue to be active until we can perform more tests to determine what the mass is, and if it is a symptom of a yet unidentified underlying issue.

Blade

Blade was admitted as a cold-stun, but also had a traumatic (possible boat strike) injury to the left side of his carapace and bottom shell that was dangerously close to penetrating through into his body cavity. The good news for Blade is that the suspected boat strike injury has completely healed, thanks to regular wound cleaning and a minor surgery.

national aquarium animal rescue blade

Unfortunately, Blade is still fighting an active infection in his right front flipper, and his condition is still critical. Blade recently underwent a CT scan, and the results indicate an active bone infection in his right shoulder. Bone infections can be difficult to treat, but our Animal Health staff have been working hard to monitor and treat the infection appropriately. Yesterday, Blade underwent additional x-rays, blood work, and a sedated procedure to extract some infected cells so we can identify whether the infection is bacterial or fungal.

Our staff are keeping Blade as comfortable as possible, and doing everything they can to help him fight the infection.

Stay tuned for more updates on our sea turtle patients and be sure to follow me on Twitter for a behind-the-scenes look at our rehab efforts! 

Animal Rescue Expert


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