Posts Tagged 'Conservation'



Bill Introduced in Maryland House to Combat Seafood Fraud

national aquarium government affairs and policy update

Earlier this week, Delegate Eric Luedtke introduced a bill that would provide Maryland residents with better information on the origin of purchased seafood.

The “Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act” (House Bill 913) is the first piece of legislation introduced in the state of Maryland that directly addresses seafood fraud. According to our partners at Oceana, at least one-third of all seafood items purchased in the United States are mislabeled. They also reported that 26 percent of tested seafood in the DC metro area was mislabeled.

Citizens can have a tremendous positive impact on the health of our bays and oceans through their everyday consumer choices. The effectiveness of these choices is directly linked to the reliability of the information provided. Proper identification opens the doorway to increased knowledge of where seafood is raised and harvested, contributes to the movement of sustainable fishing practices and sustainably minded consumers, and results in a healthier ocean.

The National Aquarium is proud to support this bill: we cannot properly protect the ocean without fully understanding its creatures and our relationship to them. A large amount of our interaction with fish and shellfish occurs in the kitchen and in restaurants, and the more we can know about where our food is from the better we will understand this relationship.

Through educational programming, conservation action, special events like our Fresh Thoughts Sustainable Seafood Dining Series, and in supporting policy initiatives like this one, the National Aquarium places a high priority on promoting and supporting seafood that is caught both locally and sustainably.

Here are the five things you need to know about the Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act:

  1. This bill specifically prohibits any person from knowingly misidentifying the species of seafood product being sold in the state of Maryland.
  2. This bill requires that species, common name and state of origin be identified on restaurant menus or market signs, as appropriate.
  3. The bill requires specific identifications for crab products, barring anything that wasn’t made from the Atlantic crab species Callinectes sapidus from being labeled as “blue crab.”
  4. In addition to actively supporting this bill, Oceana has also petitioned Congress to pass federal labeling legislation. If passed, Maryland would become the 2nd state in the country to require this type seafood labeling.
  5. Over 400 chefs nationwide have signaled their support for this type of legislation, including 25 chefs from Maryland and 10 from Baltimore.

The bill will be heard in front of the House Environmental Matters Committee on February 26th at 1:00 pm. The National Aquarium team will testify in support and will actively advocate for the bill before the entire General Assembly.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our legislative update emails and follow me on Twitter for real-time updates from Annapolis throughout session!

Want to contact your Maryland representative regarding House Bill 913? Find your legislator here.

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Thoughtful Thursday: 14 Ways to Love the Ocean

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We spend the month of February showering friends and family with love, so why not shower our natural surroundings with a little love and appreciation, too? They are, after all, the reason why we can continue to live on this planet!

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As part of our Month of Love celebration, I’ve gathered 14 easy ways for you to show the ocean some love:

  1. Play in/on it. It is hard to escape the respect and awe you will feel once you’ve immersed yourself in it.
  2. Discover what is beneath the surface. Become a certified SCUBA diver – or check out some of the amazing animals and habitats at the National Aquarium!
  3. Protect ocean habitat. Look for ways you can protect or restore vital ocean ecosystems. Join us for a coastal sand dune restoration event May 16-17 in Virginia Beach.
  4. Start at home. What you do in your home and your yard has downstream effects on our rivers, bays and oceans. Fertilize less (or not at all), discontinue use of herbicides and pesticides and don’t dump chemicals into your drains.
  5. Drive less. As distant as it seems, our greenhouse gas emissions on land are directly linked to ocean acidification. If we decrease the concentration of these gases in our atmosphere, we can help the oceans maintain a healthy balance.
  6. Learn to share. We share the ocean with an amazing array of plants and animals. Slow down when boating near marine mammals and sea turtles, make sure you retrieve any lost fishing line and watch animals from a distance to ensure their safety and yours.
  7. Eat sustainable seafood. Seafood is a very healthy meal option, but make sure the fish you eat is caught or farmed responsibly.
  8. Eat locally. See #5. Locally grown food options cut down on transportation in the supply chain and are fresher alternatives.
  9. Learn about ocean planning efforts. Join us for the Ocean Frontiers II Maryland Film Premiere to hear how lessons learned in New England will help guide efforts here to chart a new path for the Mid-Atlantic’s long-term health.
  10. Ditch the plastic. Plastic pollution is one of the most visible threats facing our oceans. Find ways to reduce the amount of disposable plastics you use in your daily routine.
  11. Definitely ditch the microplastics. Microplastics are the tiny plastic particles that show up in popular personal care products, like face scrubs. These plastics are washed immediately down the drain and into our nearby rivers and streams after use. Although hard to see with the naked eye, microplastics are seriously damaging the health of our oceans.
  12. Visit or support a National Marine Sanctuary. Similar to National Parks on land, these sanctuaries are areas set aside to help protect vital ocean resources.
  13. Stay inspired. Check out our live exhibit webcams if you ever need a quick dose of inspiration!
  14. Share it with your family. Form cherished memories by spending time with your family at the water’s edge. It will heighten your appreciation of both!

So, what do you say? Are you ready to join me in giving our blue planet some love this Valentine’s Day?

Laura Bankey

Ocean Acidification: A Global Issue With Local Consequences

national aquarium conservation expert update

Only a few decades ago, scientists thought that the buffering capacity of the world’s oceans was so great that they could absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide (one of the greenhouse gases that is emitted when we burn fossil fuels) without much consequence. This was good news because carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were rising and while there were consequences for a changing climate, at least the oceans would be spared.

Unfortunately, there has been a growing body of emerging research that links dramatic changes in ocean chemistry to the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere – just in time for us to see the highest concentrations of carbon dioxide that has ever been measured – 400 parts per million. Typically, the new research focused on the effects of changing ocean chemistry, or ocean acidification, on corals and other carbonate-based organisms. It was discovered that the shells of these organisms could actually dissolve.

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A graphic representation of ocean acidification. (Via Seattle Magazine)

But the term ocean acidification is misleading. In fact, the process of converting carbon dioxide to carbonic acid is happening in all types of open water; our bays, our streams, our lakes; our rivers and more. It is affecting organisms in all of these water bodies. The impacts may even be greater in coastal bodies of water where the addition of pollution and nutrient sources from the land are magnifying changes in water chemistry.

Maryland is putting a tremendous amount of resources into Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, including supporting a robust oyster recovery plan in state waters. Ocean acidification has been shown to significantly affect the growth rate of oysters, slowing the growth of adult oysters, and, more importantly, impeding the development of larval oysters at critical life stages. Recent studies also suggest that changing ocean pH levels can affect the thickness of crab and oyster shells, possibly shifting the predator-prey balance of these two species.

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If ocean acidification in the Chesapeake Bay goes untreated,
species like the blue crab will begin to disappear.

Furthermore, other important components of our Bay and ocean ecosystems can be affected such as calcareous phytoplankton- potentially undermining the very foundation on which other commercially and recreationally valuable species depend. At a time when we are just beginning to realize the successes of years of oyster recovery efforts and the rebuilding of important fish and crab stocks, we must work even harder to understand additional stresses these animals are facing and know how to manage against them effectively if we want to see long-term viability. We also need to take responsibility for our actions, both individually and as a community to reduce the two most significant contributors to this problem; rising greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient pollution from land-based resources.

As part of our mission at the Aquarium to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures, we take very seriously our responsibility to educate guests on the majesty and importance of the Chesapeake Bay and its wildlife. We have also worked in the field with more than 35,000 students and community volunteers restoring vital Bay habitat. We understand the importance of healthy intact communities and ecosystems and hope work with our communities to reverse the effects of ocean acidification on our local and global wildlife.

national aquarium conservation expert Laura Bankey

Thoughtful Thursday: Bag Fee Coming to Baltimore in 2014?

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This coming Monday, the Baltimore City Council will vote on a bill that would require city businesses to charge a ten cent fee on all bags (paper or plastic) provided by retail establishments at point of sale.  If passed, Baltimore City will join the ranks of Washington D.C. and Montgomery County in trying to use economic incentives to decrease litter and promote the use of reusable bags. These laws, which took effect in 2010 and 2012 respectively, have been successful in substantially reducing the number of single-use bags distributed at retail stores in those districts. In fact, bag pollution in DC neighborhoods has been reduced by more than two-thirds!

Want to make this important environmental step a reality for Baltimore? Here’s how YOU can help:

  • Tell your Baltimore City Council member that you care about out city and our wildlife and you support council bill 13-0241.
  • Make bringing reusable bags with you as you shop a routine!

There is no denying that plastic bag pollution is a real problem in our city.  Discarded bags are almost always visible -stuck in tree branches and floating along our harbor, streams and rivers.  They can clog storm drain inlets and cause localized flooding and the city spends millions of dollars each year cleaning up bags and other litter.

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They are also often seen being used as building material in bird nests and pose a threat to aquatic predators that mistake them as food.   Plastic pollution in our environment and waterways is well documented but its effects on wildlife are still being studied.   In one recent study, more than 50 percent of the sea turtles stranded on a beach in Texas, in a two-year period, contained traces of debris in their digestive tract – 65 percent of those animals had ingested plastic bags.

Our own Animal Rescue team has cared for animals that have ingested plastic bags, and while the deleterious effects of plastic digestion by animals may be obvious, the chronic effects of toxic chemicals found within these plastics and ingestion of degraded plastic (or microplastics) is just beginning to be characterized.

Paper bags are also being included in this legislation because they too require a significant amount of resources to manufacture and ship and ignoring this would be counterproductive to the intent of the bill.

It is important to remember that the intent of this bill is not to penalize our most vulnerable citizens by imposing another fee they will struggle to pay.  In fact, there are several exemptions that take into account the type of purchases and participation in public assistance programs.  We simply can no longer ignore the true cost of favoring single-use products like plastic and paper bags within the system. These items are not free.  There is a cost for their resource extraction, manufacture and shipping.  If they end up as litter, there is a cost to remove them from our waterways, city streets and storm drains – and when we aren’t able to do that, there is a cost to wildlife.

Laura Bankey

Underwater City: The Hustle and Bustle of Coral Reefs

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Bright, beautiful and overflowing with life, coral reefs are among the most incredible natural wonders in the world. 

national aquarium coral reef infographic

Often thought of as rocks or plants, corals are actually made up of invertebrates called polyps. These polyps can range in size from a millimeter to a foot in diameter. The polyps group together, forming a colony, and use calcium carbonate from the ocean to build a protective skeleton.

Generally, corals are classified as either hard or soft corals. Hard corals are the framework of the reef. As these corals grow in colonies, they create skeletons. Soft corals are soft and bendable, looking more like plants. These organisms form a visually stunning and biologically important foundation for many ocean inhabitants, from tiny fish to large apex predators like sharks.

Though coral reefs constitute less than one percent of the ocean floor, they support an estimated 25 percent of ocean life. They are incredibly bio-diverse, and provide critical spawning, nursery, breeding and feeding grounds for thousands of species. And, according to a report by the World Research Institute, 75 percent of the world’s reefs are considered threatened.

The Value of Coral Reefs

The loss of thriving coral reefs has real consequences, and not just to their many inhabitants. Besides being essential habitats for fish, coral reefs have a measurable value to those who live on land.

Because they essentially serve as mountain ranges for the ocean’s coastlines, they deflect the energy of brutal storms that might otherwise decimate coastal communities. In fact, in areas where we have experienced tsunamis, the areas with coral reefs fared much better than those without.

Chemical compounds unique to coral reefs are especially useful for medicinal purposes. Researchers have used coral amalgams to treat ailments including ulcers, skin cancers and heart disorders. Once the correct formula is identified, the medicines can be mass-produced synthetically.

And of course, the natural beauty of coral reefs makes them attractive for tourists, too. Visitors from all over the world flock to the Florida Keys, Barbados, Indonesia, Australia and other destinations to get a closer look. Most of these areas rely heavily on tourism for economic growth and sustainability, so preserving coral reefs is vital for their economies.

All told, the economic value of coral reefs has been estimated to be $375 billion per year.

Reef in Danger

Sadly, coral reefs are highly threatened. Storm damage, invasive species, climate change, coastal development and commercial use are just a few of the threats. Corals are extremely sensitive, so even small sifts in light, temperature and water acidity can be detrimental. Many of the choices that we make every day contribute to the devastation of coral reefs. Coral is able to grow and repair itself, but needs precisely the right environment to do so.

In order for many coral species to thrive, they must have exposure to bright sunlight. Clear-water environments are necessary for corals to receive the maximum amount of direct light. Pollution in our water from runoff and other chemicals can cause excessive amounts of algae to grow on its surface. This process, called eutrophication, clouds the water and prevents coral from getting the sun that it needs.

In addition to chemical pollutants, coral reefs are also threatened by ocean acidification caused by the burning of fossil fuels. This process sends a deluge of carbon dioxide into the air, forming carbonic acid. Destructive fish practices, such as the use of cyanide to attract specific types of fish, also contribute to the devastation of coral reefs.

To respond to the threat of ocean acidification, the XPRIZE Foundation launched the $2 million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE last year. This new contest, developed with help from the National Aquarium and other leading ocean healthy organizations, aims to spur innovators to develop accurate and affordable ocean pH sensors that will ultimately transform our understanding of one of the greatest problems associated with the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

While the future of coral reefs may appear bleak, there’s still a lot we CAN do to protect these aquatic treasures! 

Jack Cover


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