Posts Tagged 'laura bankey'



Week of Thanks: Laura Bankey on Urban Wildlife!

In the spirit of the holiday, our experts are sharing what they’re thankful for this year!

Our fourth “Week of Thanks” post comes from the Aquarium’s Director of Conservation, Laura Bankey

As always, I am grateful to the many volunteers, students, and partners we’ve worked with this year – all working together with the common goal of protecting and restoring the animals and habitats that are vital to the health of our region.

This year, a unique focus has been directed towards wildlife and habitats within our urban boundaries. A new recognition is being placed on our shared space, our shared resources and the need to manage both with care for the benefit of both humans and wildlife.

In particular, the National Aquarium partnered with others in two major efforts this year to help improve and model the restoration and protection of urban wildlife habitat.

Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership: In September of this year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) launched a new initiative to engage urban communities in wildlife conservation, and officially designated Masonville Cove as the nation’s first Urban Wildlife Refuge.

Masonville Cove

With 80 percent of Americans living in urban areas, FWS identified the need to find innovative ways to share its mission with an expanded audience. This new Refuge system works with conservation organizations, like the National Aquarium, already on the ground in these urban areas to give many more Americans the opportunity to grow up with a real connection to the outdoors and wildlife. Masonville Cove was the first of eight partnerships announced this year.

Community Wildlife Habitat Certification: In partnership with the National Wildlife Federation, the National Aquarium announced a joint effort to certify the city of Baltimore as a Community Wildlife Habitat. This program aims to provide food, shelter, cover and water to local and migrating urban wildlife. The community certification uses the same backyard habitat improvement practices and applies them on a city-wide scale, allowing for much greater impact and improved resources for birds, pollinators, etc.

national aquarium certified wildlife habitat

In Jim Sterba’s book, Nature Wars, he asserts “it is very likely that more people live in closer proximity to more wild animals, birds and trees in the eastern United States today than anywhere on the planet at any time in history.” This is primarily due to the obvious increase in human population of this region over the past 400 years, and not so obviously, to the improved protection and management of natural areas within the same region.

If we value the new connections we can make to wildlife in these urban centers, we need to recognize our responsibility in creating a shared space that benefits both the human and animal communities. This year, I’m thankful to say that with the help of our partners and volunteers, National Aquarium has made many great strides in that direction!

I hope that others will continue to join us in making these important connections with wildlife to urban populations!

Thoughtful Thursday: Our National Marine Sanctuaries Tell an Important Story

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Over the years, we’ve been lucky to share America’s aquatic treasures with millions of visitors. Chief among those treasures is our nation’s network of marine sanctuaries!

Earlier this week, our Chief Conservation Officer Eric Schwaab sat on a panel on Capitol Hill to discuss the successes and importance of our Marine Sanctuary Program. His role was to highlight the shared goals of aquariums and the program – including to help people appreciate the economic and environmental importance of healthy ocean resources and to emphasize the wonder, diversity and importance of our National Marine Sanctuaries.

guam national marine sanctuary

Just like their terrestrial counterparts, the National Parks, National Marine Sanctuaries are protected areas of our oceans and Great Lakes that preserve the natural and cultural heritage of our country. They are places of recreation, research, conservation, protection and managed use. Since 1972 when the Marine Protection, Research and Protection Act was passed, 14 Marine Protected Areas (13 Sanctuaries and 1 Marine National Monument) have been designated. In total, more than 170,000 square miles of aquatic habitats are under the protection of the National Marine Sanctuary Program.

map of national marine sanctuaries

Map of National Marine Sanctuaries (via NOAA).

Why are these areas singled out for protection? The answer is different for each sanctuary. Some, like the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary were created to protect significant cultural sites. Sixteen miles off the coast of North Carolina, the final resting place of the USS Monitor became the first sanctuary in 1975. The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary was created to protect humpback whales and their habitat in Hawaii. It is considered one of the world’s most important humpback whale habitats, providing protected breeding, calving and nursing areas.

Many sanctuaries were designated because of their combined habitat and economic value. Managed, sustainable use of resources within sanctuary borders is allowed and strictly regulated. Recreational diving, ecotourism and fishing are all activities that are supported to varying degrees within the sanctuaries.

A loggerhead turtle in our Gray's Reef gallery

With all of the threats our oceans are facing, it is critically important that we continue to support underwater protected areas like these sanctuaries. It’s in these special places that we can study oceanographic processes and man’s effect on them. We can protect endangered species and habitats. We can learn how to manage for the sustainable use of our ocean’s resources. We can explore our underwater world in its natural state!

Finally, there are things we can all do to make sure these sanctuaries and our oceans are protected and healthy. You can volunteer (many sanctuaries need help with education, outreach, data collection and monitoring), sit on an advisory council or change one thing in your daily routine that will make a difference for our oceans and these special places.

Have you ever had the opportunity to visit a National Marine Sanctuary? Tell us about it in the comments section!

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Thoughtful Thursday: Celebrate National Seafood Month Locally!

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Buy Local! This rallying cry has become more and more prominent over the past several years. The popularity of farmers markets, Community-Supported Agriculture and Farm-to-Table restaurants has grown exponentially in recent years. What’s not to love? The food is fresher, local economies are supported and the carbon footprint of transporting the products to stores is drastically reduced.

But, how often do we think of “buy local” when we think of seafood?

Similar to other food we feed our families, purchasing local seafood has its benefits. But when we talk about food taken from our waters, there are other considerations as well – primarily dealing with how well wild and farmed fish stocks are managed here in the United States. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, first enacted in 1976, provides the foundation for sustainable fisheries management in US waters.

This law established the science-based, cooperatively-managed system that employs routine stock assessments, catch limits, ecosystem-based management and accountability measures that eliminate overfishing and support sustainable populations.

Sustainable sturgeon nursery in North Carolina, which is producing local caviar!

Sustainable sturgeon nursery in North Carolina, which is producing local caviar!

Although US fisheries and aquaculture are tightly managed, more than 80 percent of the seafood we eat in the United States is imported. Foreign fisheries and aquaculture operations are under varying degrees of control. Many countries have put the financial gain of the fishing and aquaculture industries above the need to sustain healthy ecosystems and populations of fish. Efforts to improve international efforts to improve the management of our aquatic resources have already begun and are vital to supporting global sustainability, but there is still much work to be done.

Buying local seafood isn’t just about supporting U.S. fisheries and local fishermen, especially here in the Mid-Atlantic. This region enjoys the particular pleasure of being able to enjoy diverse and high quality seafood from our ocean, bays and rivers – and more recently from aquaculture facilities. But, even here, our seafood choices are highly affected by the global economy. More often than not, your “Maryland style” crab cake is made with imported crab meat.

As consumers, we should begin asking ourselves how our seafood purchasing decisions can make a difference. Here are some simple steps to get you started:

  • Buy Local -  Support local fishermen by asking if the seafood you purchase is from local sources. For example, in Maryland, you can identify restaurants using local Maryland blue crab meat by the True Blue certification logo on their menus.
  • Support Community-Supported Fisheries - Similar to the agriculture program, CSFs connect local fishermen and consumers, providing a steady source of locally caught or farmed seafood throughout the year.
  • Eat What’s in Season -  Just like vegetables, many seafood choices have a “season.” Purchasing seafood out of season generally means you are not supporting local options.

The health of our local fish is intricately tied to the health of our aquatic ecosystems, which is all connected to the health of the land surrounding these ecosystems. When we better understand  - and benefit from – the relationship between healthy waters and safe, plentiful seafood, we think more carefully about things we can do to help protect our waterways. Continued support for individual, community and civic efforts to clean up our waterways and watersheds is good for us and the fish!

Do you have a favorite local seafood recipe(s)? Share them with me in the comments section! 

Laura Bankey

Conservation Update: Seismic Airgun Testing

national aquarium conservation update

While the Mid-Atlantic coast has never been a hot spot for oil exploration, new technologies and pressure to cut our dependence on foreign energy sources has created renewed interest in discovering what lies just beneath the sea floor.

Recent offshore activity was cut short however in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Later that year, all offshore drilling for petroleum deposits along the Mid-Atlantic coast was suspended until 2017. But 2017 is just around the corner, and oil and gas companies are requesting permission to survey for deposits under the ocean floor in anticipation of being able to drill in the near future.

The survey technique that will be used is called “seismic airgun testing.” This survey technique uses sound waves generated by an airgun aimed towards the ocean floor to determine the possible locations of petroleum deposits. The sounds waves are reflected as they reach the bottom of the sea and are sent back towards the surface. The specific signature of the reflected sound waves can be interpreted to determine the composition of the below-surface substrate.

Critics of this technique are concerned that the level of noise generated by the airgun surveys is too extreme and will be harmful to marine life. They say the intensity of sound required to collect data from miles below the sea floor is so high that it has the potential to harm marine mammals, sea turtles and fish. Animals may strand, suffer from hearing loss and/or lose their ability to capture prey. At a time when hundreds of marine mammals in the region have succumbed to a deadly virus, some groups say the additional impact the surveys will have on wildlife is too great.

The U.S. Department of the Interior is currently considering accepting a draft environmental impact statement that would effectively open up the Mid-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (along the coast from Delaware to Florida) to seismic airgun testing. They are expected to make their decision in the spring of 2014.

If you are interested in offshore resource management or ocean wildlife, join us at the Aquarium on October 17th at 7pm, as we hear from experts on all sides of the debate regarding the need for domestic energy sources, survey techniques, current status of marine resources in the area, and the possible effects of testing on those resources!

Blast Zone Warning: Educational Forum 

WHAT: Learn more about seismic airgun testing and hear from experts: Oceana scientist Matthew Huelsenbeck, Dr. Chris Moore (Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council), Tommy Landers (Maryland Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network) and other professionals in the fields of marine mammal acoustics.

WHEN: Thursday, October 17 at 7pm

WHERE: National Aquarium, 501 E. Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202

This event is free and open to the public!

Laura Bankey

National Seafood Month: What Does Sustainable Seafood Mean?

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How are you celebrating National Seafood Month?

In this region we have so many options: oysters are in season and crabs are still being harvested through the fall months! If you would prefer to have someone else do the cooking, you are in luck; we are surrounded by an amazing array of seafood restaurants. If you’d rather put your culinary skills to the test, our local supermarkets carry almost anything that comes out of the ocean and you are limited only by your imagination.

national aquarium fresh thoughts oysters

No matter what you decide, you should know that the impacts of your choices reach far beyond the particular fish on your plate and that you have the power to help to support both sustainable seafood and healthy oceans. What do we mean by sustainable seafood? Simply put, it is the seafood that is caught or farmed today, in ways that do not compromise the needs of future generations to enjoy that seafood in the years to come. But, there is nothing simple about it.

There are a dizzying number of factors that are considered when determining sustainable seafood – almost as many as the number of organizations and industry groups that have developed their own sustainability certification or eco-label. And while seafood farming, or aquaculture may be one of the best ways to help feed an every-growing human population, it has its own set of unique sustainability considerations.

In the most general terms, a sustainable seafood label for wild-caught seafood needs to take into consideration:

  • Abundance of fish being targeted - ensuring that populations are at or are moving toward target levels based on historical abundance
  • Current management of the fishery - having plans in place and ensuring that rates of fishing removals are within scientifically determined acceptable levels
  • Method of fishing - putting in place sufficient measures to guard against unacceptable levels of bycatch of other species and preventing damage from fishing gear to ocean bottom and other habitats
  • Ecosystem impacts - ensuring that sufficient number of species are preserved for “ecosystem services” such as when the target species is important to other species in the marine environment, for example as ocean filters or as forage for other species

The sustainability of farmed seafood also must consider:

  • Sustainability of the food needed to grow target species to market size (often including smaller wild-caught fish)
  • Habitat impacts of the farms themselves, including impacts on natural habitats, pollution from concentrated waste, use of antibiotics and other treatments, and potential disease transmission threats
  • Possibility of escape into local waterways and impacts to native fish populations and habitats
  • Adequacy of and compliance with local aquaculture regulations.

How to make sustainable seafood choices

With all of these considerations, how are we supposed to choose the right seafood to feed our families? Which choice will provide a healthy meal without compromising the health of our oceans?

Over the past several years a few tools have been developed to help consumers wade through the available information and to help make informed decisions. While there are several certification programs available, the three that are the most consumer-friendly are the Marine Stewardship Council Eco-label, NOAA Fisheries FishWatch site and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program.

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Monterey Bay’s National Seafood Watch guide.

The Seafood Watch Program has developed a science-based tool to quickly identify which seafood choices are Best Choices (green), Good Alternatives (yellow) and choices we should Avoid (red). Depending on your level of interest, you can quickly identify healthy seafood choices or choose to explore the wealth of information made available through their seafood ranking system.

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NOAA’s FishWatch website.

Fishwatch provides current facts and figures on status and management programs for all federally managed fisheries. The United States and our domestic fishermen deserve particular credit for our sustainable fishery management policies. Effective in 2012, each federally managed fishery adheres to scientifically determined catch limits and has in place measures to prevent overfishing and where necessary, rebuild depleted stocks.

While these programs are both robust and constantly updated, they have limitations in their ability monitor every commercial fishery. There is no substitute, therefore, in knowing where you seafood comes from, knowing the issues, and learning to make informed decisions on your own.

The next time you visit your local grocery store, check out the seafood case. You’ll probably notice that most of the fish are labeled “wild-caught” or “farmed” along with the location of the fishery or farm. Some stores even have certification labels on the fish they sell. If you don’t see any of this, ask why. Let them know that choosing the right seafood is important to you. Let them know that you want them to be your partner in providing healthy seafood choices for your family – while supporting healthy ocean ecosystems!

Have questions/concerns about purchasing sustainable seafood? Leave them for me in the comments section! 

Laura Bankey national aquarium conservation expert


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