Posts Tagged 'thoughtful thursday'



Thoughtful Thursday: Students Use Their Summer to Dig Deep Into Conservation

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Each summer, the National Aquarium provides minority undergraduate students an opportunity to participate in hands-on conservation science activities focused on wetland ecology and marine animal rescue! In addition to providing extraordinary opportunities for hands-on learning, this program addresses the need for greater representation of minorities in the conservation and environmental science fields.

minority student internship program

Throughout their internship, students are encouraged to participate in experience-building opportunities for future careers that involve current issues of coastal ocean and conservation management and will have the opportunity to work with our staff and partners that are actively engaged in conservation, research, and management issues. Since 2003 this program has supported 45 students, and of the 35 students that have graduated, 22 have gone on to pursue a career in conservation science.

Our 2013 class included: Renesha Chiles (Chemistry Major at Virginia Union University), Fatima Castro (Biology Major at Virginia State University), Matthew Eicholtz (Environmental Science Major at University of Maryland College Park), and Mia Price (Biology Major at Virginia State University). Over eight weeks students worked with Aquarium staff from our Biological Programs Department including: herpetologists, horticulturalists, aquarists, volunteer divers, marine mammal trainers, laboratory technicians, and veterinary staff.

They also participated in educational outreach activities, wildlife training, and animal husbandry with Aquarium partners including: MD Department of Natural Resources, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Living Classrooms Foundation, National Park Service, MD Environmental Service, Department of Defense, Biohabitats, US Fish and Wildlife Service, MD Port Authority, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Activities with partners included:

  • Restoring a tidal wetland at Naval Support Facility Indian Head and Stump Neck Annex (Indian Head, MD)
  • Osprey banding at Patuxent River Park (Upper Marlboro, MD)
  • Shark tagging (Ocean City, MD)
  • Restoring a fresh water wetland with elementary, middle and high school students (Horeheads and Elmira, NY)
  • WOW! The Wonders of Wetland’s education outreach training (St. Michael’s, MD)
  • Invasive species removal at Cylburn Arboretum (Baltimore, MD)
  • Debris cleanup and wetland restoration at Masonville Cove Environmental Educational Center (Baltimore, MD)
  • Necropsy of a harbor porpoise (Oxford, MD)
  • Sea turtle release (Scotland, MD)
  • National Aquarium Animal Rescue outreach event at Seacrets Jamaica USA (Ocean City, MD)
  • Construction of Floating Wetland Islands (Baltimore, MD)

At the conclusion of the summer students report on their experiences and the value of this type of opportunity. If you are interested in seeing their presentation, click here.

One student best summed up her experience with the following; “The internship was super awesome! I really enjoyed the opportunity and I miss you all very much. I shared the detail of my 8 weeks with my close friends, family, and colleagues. They were please to hear I enjoyed myself. The conservation team, including aquarium staff, really helped me make my final decision in what I want to do for graduate school; herpetology. This program was so diverse that it opened my eyes to all areas of science. I’m considering doing conservation volunteer work in the future whatever part of the world I am in.”

The Aquarium will continue to maintain contact with all participants following them on their career path and offering support through recommendations and job opportunities in the conservation field.

The program was supported by the Dillon Foundation, Rosenbloom Foundation, PPG Industries, and Darden Restaurants.

Blog-Header-LauraBankey

Thoughtful Thursdays: Get to Know Our Chief Conservation Officer

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On July 1st, Eric Schwaab joined the National Aquarium as our (first-ever) Senior Vice President and our Chief Conservation Officer. This newly-created position was developed to lead the Aquarium’s efforts in becoming a national leader in aquatic conservation and environmental stewardship.

Upon his appointment, Aquarium CEO John Racanelli said, “We are dedicated to our mission of inspiring conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. Eric’s wealth of experience and passion will help us expand and better promote conservation action to protect the ocean, our planet’s life support system.”

Now that he’s a couple of months into his new role, I sat down with him to discuss his thoughts and plans!

Tell us a little about your background and why this work is important to you.

Eric Schwaab: I grew up in the Baltimore area and have many great memories of fishing, crabbing, boating and swimming on Maryland’s Atlantic Coast and in the Chesapeake Bay. Later in college I connected again to the natural world through work at Piney Run Park in Carroll County. That was the point that I really know that I wanted to make natural resource conservation a career focus. I have been very fortunate to realize that goal. Before coming to National Aquarium earlier this summer I was serving as the acting Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management for the US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) overseeing work on a range of national fisheries, coastal and ocean issues. Immediately before that, as Assistant Administrator for Fisheries at NOAA, I was responsible for directing the National Marine Fisheries Service in its work on science, management and conservation of federal fisheries, marine mammals, sea turtles and other protected resources within the United States. I led the agency’s work to end overfishing, implement “catch share” management programs to better align the interests of commercial fishing businesses with conservation goals, and efforts to improve coastal and ocean habitat conservation.

Prior to your work in the federal government, you were the Deputy Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDDNR) and had previously served in other DNR capacities. What did these experiences teach you that will prepare you for your new role at the Aquarium?

ES: Working on conservation issues in a populated state like Maryland really forces you to understand the role that people must play in protecting our environment. We also live in a state where most people place great value on their natural surroundings. Chesapeake Bay conservation efforts in particular unite us, as we understand that mountain streams, forests and farms, and our urban and suburban communities all play roles in ensuring clean water and healthy habitats for fish, crabs and oysters. I have been fortunate to have had the chance to work closely with legislative leaders, state agencies, local governments and local residents across Maryland to support important state conservation initiatives, including Chesapeake Bay restoration, forest conservation, park land protection and fisheries conservation.

What interested you most about this position?

ES: Ultimately if we can show people what healthy bays, oceans, streams, and coral reefs look like, we have a good start toward inspiring them to do their part to make sure we have more “out there” of what they love here at the Aquarium. Through our exhibits and our current work in conservation and science, National Aquarium is helping to redefine the role of public aquariums as catalysts for tangible change in how people care for oceans and aquatic systems. Our role as a trusted source of information and our ability to communicate with millions of people annually provide significant opportunities to influence public policy and personal behavior on behalf of sustainable ocean conservation. I look forward to helping to lead that work.

You’ve held some pretty important positions within both the state and federal governments. With that experience, what is the most important thing you’ve learned?

ES: Even in high level state and federal government positions, real conservation commitment and action occurs at the local level. While effective conservation action depends upon sound science, effective strategies and rigorous attention to results, the most important ingredient is still local commitment to action. Having people who value natural resources and understand the strong, inherent relationship between a healthy environment and healthy communities and sustainable economies is critical. We see this everywhere today. Whether in the form of resilient coasts, sustainable fisheries or popular natural tourist attractions, communities gain when natural resources are healthy.

What is the biggest challenge we face in improving the health of our oceans?

ES: Understanding that we all must do our part. Climate change, ocean acidification and warming, depletion of fish stocks, and many of our remaining pollution challenges result from the cumulative actions of many individuals. These problems will not be addressed solely through some government program or “that other guy” behaving differently. We each have to take some responsibility for energy conservation, reducing fossil fuel emissions, maintaining healthy watersheds and making smart purchasing decisions if we are to sustain the resources we depend on and care about.

Much of your recent work has dealt with sustainable fisheries. What is the one thing you would like our readers to (understand or do) with regards to taking responsibility towards healthy fish populations?

ES: We have made a lot of progress nationally in ending overfishing and rebuilding depleted stocks. And while there is still work to do here and abroad, the bigger challenges to fisheries sustainability here and around the world are in declining health of coastal and ocean habitats. The best fishery management in the world will fall short if we do not take care of our coasts and oceans.

What are the next steps for National Aquarium’s Conservation Department?

We are committed to telling the conservation story more effectively. The feature exhibits here represent ecosystems that are threatened here in the Bay region and around the world. We want to use these exhibits to inspire greater appreciation and conservation action, among visitors, throughout the community and even among those who have not yet visited here in Baltimore. We also want to be more directly involved in conservation research, policy and action. We will be growing our work on important conservation science, policy and management issues, taking advantage of our experts in Baltimore and Washington, DC and enhance partnerships with others involved in this important work. And we will be seeking your help through member support and engagement.

If you could ask the reader to do one thing to improve our natural world, what would that be?

ES: Stop, look and appreciate all the natural world has to offer – - everything else will follow.

Blog-Header-LauraBankey

Thoughtful Thursdays: The Role Sharks Play in Maintaining Healthy Ocean Ecosystems

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Sharks, like almost no other animal on this planet, capture our thoughts and imagination – deservedly so. These animals have been around for hundreds of millions of years and have evolved into almost every shape and size. They can be the size of a bus or the size of your smart phone. They can bear live young or lay eggs in open water. They can feed on the smallest plankton or on whale carcasses. They can spend most of their lives on a relatively small section of the sea floor or migrate more than a thousand miles.

Despite their incredible diversity, most species of sharks have several things in common. They generally take a long time to reach reproductive age and have few offspring and although some species can tolerate fresh water, most live in salt water their entire lives. Most are also apex predators and their numbers are declining in ecologically significant ways. A coral reef ecosystem and the incredibly diverse plant and animal community it supports, is directly impacted by the health and abundance of sharks as apex predators – and vice versa.

blacktip reef sharks

Our new exhibit, Blacktip Reef, represents an entire coral reef ecosystem!

When we talk about the real and urgent threats sharks are facing – overfishing, shark finning, bycatch and habitat destruction, we are inclined to focus on the issues that are less diffuse, and quite frankly, issues where the blame lies with others. All we have to do is fix the bad habits of others and we can save the world.

While bycatch, overfishing and finning are vitally important to address (70-100 million sharks are killed annually due to these problems alone), we can’t forget that we also need to protect the places – like coral reefs – they depend upon to survive. If we want to ensure the health of our marine species, we’ll need to reverse the widespread destruction of vital coral reef, mangrove, grass bed and wetland habitats. These are nursery or feeding grounds for sharks and other species. Protection of habitat is tightly linked to the well-being of the animals we care so much about.

We are losing these habitats at alarming rates and for a variety of reasons. Climate change and ocean acidification are threatening our coral reefs, coastal development and sea level rise are jeopardizing our important mangrove and wetland areas, and sedimentation and destructive fishing practices are killing our underwater grass beds. If we are going to protect sharks and other ocean species, we’ll need to also focus on these issues. But this time, when we look for the person to blame, we need to accept some personal responsibility. We, as individuals and as a society, are responsible for – and have the power to mitigate for climate change, to make sure development happens in responsible ways, to decrease our collective carbon footprints. We need to hold ourselves responsible for our own individual contributions to this problem and we need to hold each other accountable.

The good news is, as we make strides to restore and protect healthy habitats, the lasting effects cascade throughout the ecosystem – creating supportive environments for healthy plant and animal communities. The better news is we can do something today to make a difference! Volunteer with the National Aquarium or other local conservation organization to restore vital aquatic habitats, choose seafood that has been caught in ways that doesn’t harm sharks, or take a step to reduce your carbon footprint. Sharks deserve our help. Join us!

Blog-Header-LauraBankey

Thoughtful Thursdays: Eco-Friendly Ways to Beat the Heat!

With temperatures rising, it’s tempting to turn up the air conditioning to stay cool. We have some better ideas that won’t hurt your wallet and will help keep our environment healthy:

  • Go to the local farmers market - Fresh food is always good, but it is especially refreshing when it’s hot out and you want to stay cool. Go to your local farmers market and get fresh veggies and fruit. It will be a fun outing and you’ll be supporting your local markets.
  • Plant some trees - Planting trees near your house is not only good for the environment, but they provide shade to keep your house cool. This could lower your electric bill and help save the environment at the same time!
  • Go somewhere with air conditioning - When it gets too hot to bear, take advantage of a place with air conditioning so you don’t have to run your air at home. A library or grocery store will keep you cool and you’ll be able to do some shopping or relax with a good book.
  • Make some BBQ! - Invite over family and friends and grill out instead of using your oven. Using the grill will save you on your energy cost and also keep the heat of cooking outside and not in your kitchen.
  • Drink the right water - Drinking water is refreshing when it’s hot and you’re thirsty, but using plastic bottled water is bad for the environment. Get some re-usable water bottles, fill them up with tap or filtered water, and stick them in the fridge or freezer. You’ll have a nice, cool drink waiting for you when it gets too hot, and it will also be environmentally friendly!

Got an favorite eco-friendly ways to beat the heat? Share them with us in the comments section! 

Thoughtful Thursdays: Plastic Free July

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Plastic Free July, an initiative started in Australia in 2011, is making its global debut this year. It’s a campaign designed to make us think about how we use plastic in our daily lives in an effort to get us to eliminate single-use plastic from our routines. There is no doubt that plastics play a significant role in improving our quality of life (i.e., bicycle helmets, hearing aids, etc.), but our growing reliance on single-use plastics is not only creating environmental problems (six of the top 10 items found during the Ocean Conservancy’s 2012 Coastal Cleanup were single-use plastics), but it’s perpetuating this myth that there are unlimited natural resources on this planet, so therefore we can feel free to use and dispose of them as we wish.

We know this is not the case, but our routines continue to support the disposable lifestyle – and many of us find it difficult to break bad habits. The Plastic Free July intiative challenges people to make a commitment to eliminate single-use plastics from their lives for one day, one week, one month or longer. If it becomes too difficult to go cold turkey, they suggest that you tackle the top 4 (straws, plastic bags, plastic bottles and coffee cup lids).

Marine Debris - Plastic Bags

During last year’s International Coastal Cleanup, approximately 1,019,902 plastic bags were retrieved. If you ate jellies, could you tell the difference?

Any contribution to the effort, they say, is a step in the right direction. They are right. As the Director of Conservation at the National Aquarium, I’ve been involved in our cleanup efforts at Fort McHenry for more than a decade. More than 95 percent of the debris we remove from the wetland is plastic or foam and an overwhelming majority of that is single-use. This debris affects the health of our waterways, the health of our wildlife and the health of our communities – and it’s preventable. On one end of the process, we can get much better at waste disposal and recycling in our region. At the other end of the process, we can take steps to dramatically reduce the amount of single-use plastics that we use, keeping it out of the waste stream altogether.

There are several good resources out there if you would like tips on how to take the first step, like living plastic free, My Plastic Free Life and the Ocean Conservancy’s smartphone app called Rippl. A couple of years ago, I began my own journey to eliminate the top 4 from my daily routine, and while it has been mostly successful, it hasn’t always been perfect (hint: you can’t take a stainless steel water bottle into Camden Yards to watch an Orioles game). I have reusable shopping bags stashed in my car and my purse and carry an insulated mug with me just about everywhere I go, but more than half the time, I still forget to inform restaurant waiters that I don’t need a straw before one is automatically plopped down on the table. I know changing habits takes time, so I try to give myself a break. More importantly, I know that the real success is not so much when you reach your goal, but when you start making conscious decisions that rely less and less on convenience and more and more on responsible consumerism.

Have you gone plastic free? Are you participating in the Plastic Free July challenge? Share your experience with me in the comments section! 

Blog-Header-LauraBankey


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