Posts Tagged 'NOAA'

Thoughtful Thursday: The Endangered Species Act Turns 40

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted by Congress in December of 1973. Its goal is to provide protection for species that are endangered or threatened and conserve the habitats their survival depends upon.

A species is considered endangered if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or significant portion of its range and threatened if it is likely to become an endangered species in the near future. Currently, there are over 2,000 species listed under the ESA. The efforts to protect these animals are administered by two federal agencies: the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Zoos and Aquariums, including the National Aquarium, work closely with these agencies to both conserve habitats and raise public awareness of these species. Their continued survival is a large part of our organization’s mission. Here are just a few of the threatened/endangered species that call the Aquarium home:

In the last few decades, the Act has successfully prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species it protects – making it one of the most effective conservation laws in our nation’s history! Check out this video looking back on the last 40 years of the ESA:

While there are many successes we should be celebrating today, there’s still a lot of work to be done in protecting species from decline and inspiring our next generation of conservationists.

Here’s how YOU can support our efforts to conserve and protect these amazing animals!

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!

Blog-Header-LauraBankey

National Seafood Month: What Does Sustainable Seafood Mean?

national aquarium conservation expert update
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

Unusual Mortality Event Declared in Response to Dolphin Strandings

Animal Rescue Update

Last week, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared an unusual mortality event in the Mid-Atlantic. For the month of July, dolphin mortalities were higher than average for the states of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. Stranding responders in these areas are working very hard to keep up with the number of dolphins washing ashore, and have been working to perform necropsies (animal autopsies) on as many dolphins as possible. During a necropsy, biologists look for signs of external or internal injuries, signs of disease or illness, and take routine tissue samples for laboratory analysis. Virginia has already collected over 100 bottlenose dolphin carcasses this year, which is about 20% more than their average for a whole year.

NOAA is compiling data that is being provided by the stranding networks and comparing it to historical numbers. This information will help NOAA determine if there is a widespread trend or if there are common factors across the affected areas. The last time a well-documented die-off took place was in 1987 when more than 740 bottlenose dolphins died in a range from New York to Florida. It took several years to compile test results and determine that the culprit was a measles-like virus known as morbillivirius. While it is unknown what is causing the present day die-off, biologists are not ruling out biotoxins, bacteria or viruses as a possibility. Charley Potter, a marine mammal biologist with the Smithsonian Institute is assisting the Virginia Aquarium with investigating the dolphin deaths, and is concerned that this event could be similar to the 1987 event, but it is still too early to tell.

Stranding networks play an important role in supporting the NOAA Fisheries Service through an array of unique research and monitoring opportunities to fulfill NOAA’s core mission. The national stranding network is a successful public/private venture for monitoring marine mammal strandings. Marine mammals are important indicator species of the ocean health, so monitoring their health through strandings is important for understanding the health of our oceans and the impacts of human activities in a time of significant development and change. The stranding networks and NOAA will continue to work together to investigate incidents such as this, and more information will be released as it becomes available.

What can you do to help during this event?

  • Report any live marine mammal strandings or mortalities to the local stranding response facility. In Maryland, call the Natural Resources Police at 1-800-628-9944.
  • If you do find a stranded dolphin, wait for directions from the local stranding responder – do not touch the animal or try to return it to the water. Doing so could cause more harm.
  • Make a donation to a local stranding response organization. Events like this require a lot of basic equipment, supplies, and fees for processing tissue samples.

Blog-Header-JennDittmar

A Blue View: Understanding Ocean Acidification

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

May 29, 2013: Understanding Ocean Acidification

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss how the changing
global climate is impacting on our oceans.

Say you visit the same spot on the same ocean every year. You take a swim, and it feels pretty much like the last time. The temperature doesn’t seem all that different. You certainly can’t tell that the pH is changing.

Yet just as the global climate is changing, so too is the ocean’s chemistry. Alongside atmospheric climate change, ocean acidification is one of the most serious issues affecting the waters of our planet and all of its inhabitants.

Ocean acidification has only recently entered the public’s consciousness, though scientists have been studying and predicting the phenomenon for some time. Many estimate that the ocean absorbs approximately 30 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide, which reacts with sea water to form carbonic acid. The resultant decrease in pH means the water becomes more acidic, with disastrous effects on animals that depend on their shells and exoskeletons to survive.

Though the media has taken to calling ocean acidification our “new climate threat,” it is not a new problem. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide has been increasing in our atmosphere and therefore our seawater. Now, over 200 years later, we can no longer ignore the threat. Even conservative estimates suggest that by 2100, global ocean waters will warm nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit on average and acidity will increase by 150 percent.

So what does this mean for ocean wildlife? Clearly, the sea’s complex food web will be disrupted. Highly mobile animals will be forced to expand their home ranges as they search for more hospitable waters. Sadly, coral reefs as we know them will be forever altered and could even disappear. Animals will struggle to build skeletons and shells in waters that literally dissolve them. And growth and reproductive capabilities of numerous marine animals will be at risk.

Ocean acidification has caused coral bleaching on parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo via CS Monitor

Ocean acidification has caused coral bleaching on parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo via CS Monitor

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is not immune to these dramatic changes. In fact, according to NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office, the Bay is being affected at a faster rate than the global average because land in this region is already subsiding naturally. Bay temperatures have already increased almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1960 and are projected to increase by an additional 3 to 10 degrees by 2100—a tremendous change that will have a profound effect on the nation’s largest estuary. Increased acidification of the Bay will alter its delicate balance in other ways. For example, according to marine geologist Justin Ries of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, blue crabs could grow larger, while the creatures they eat, including oysters and clams, could suffer from weaker, slower-growing shells. These bivalves, in addition to being an integral part of the food chain, also contribute to healthier water quality by filtering huge quantities of Bay water. The moral: damage one small species and you affect the entire Chesapeake Bay.

We cannot simply undo the impacts of ocean acidification. The carbon dioxide we are putting into the atmosphere today will continue to accumulate for decades. There is hope, however, and as always, it starts with each of us. Reducing our consumption of fossil fuels and minimizing our collective carbon footprint isn’t just the best way forward, it’s the only way. As Fyodor Dostoevsky said in The Brothers Karamazov, “For all is like an ocean. All flows and connects. Touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world.”


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