Posts Tagged 'Conservation'

Join Our First-Ever Fishackathon!

baltimore fishackathon

Calling all coders, engineers, designers and problem solvers!

We need YOU to help create solutions for some of the sustainability challenges that threaten the health of our ocean and the life it sustains.

On June 13th, the National Aquarium will host its first-ever hackathon, in partnership with the Department of State! Participants will be granted behind-the-scenes access to our exhibits and provided ample snacks and caffeine throughout the night – all in the name of inspired code!

Prizes for best solution include cash prizes of $1,000, $5,000 and a trip to the Philippines!

In addition to our event here in Baltimore, four other hackathons will be occurring simultaneously, in Silicon Valley, Boston, New York City and Miami, as part of the State Department’s inaugural Our Oceans Conference.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-6LwqgoXGw]

Why #CodeforFish?

In many developing countries, independent fishermen and small fisheries are essential parts of the economy and food source.

Did you know? Fifty percent of fish caught for human consumption come from small-scale fisheries.

Overfishing and the degradation of aquatic habitats are causing these fishermen to struggle to keep up with industrial competition and support their community’s food supply.

To help address some of these challenges, the U.S. Department of State has launched a new initiative called mFish: Empowering the sustainable fishery ecosystem. The goal of mFish is to use mobile phone applications to bring real-time updates, catch reports, and fishery monitoring to fishermen in developing countries.

The nationwide Fishackathon initiative aims to support the creation of applications and solutions for fishermen to use on mFish and other platforms!

To RSVP to our Fishackathon, click here.

 

 

 

 

Thoughtful Thursday: Ignoring the Unknown

The moon might seem like a mysterious, distant speck in the night sky, but, truth is, we know more about its backside than we do about four-fifths of our own planet.

Did you know? We have maps detailing every mountain and crater on the moon’s surface, but only 5 percent of our ocean has been mapped in high resolution. The rest has been captured in low-resolution maps that offer limited detail, often omitting volcanic craters, underwater channels and shipwrecks.

­Unsurprisingly, most of the seafloor we’ve been able to thoroughly map is close to shore and along common commercial shipping routes. And if you think “close to shore” at least incorporates America’s exclusive economic zone—the underwater territory spanning 200 miles off our coastlines—think again. We have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of our nation’s own EEZ.

mapping graphic

So why don’t we have more high-res maps of our blue planet? Well, considering the average ocean depth is approximately 2.2 miles, or 12,000 feet, it’s a massive project to take on. We’re talking about more than 200 years of collecting data via ships, plus billions of U.S. dollars.

That said, these maps are invaluable tools for understanding everything from the condition and extent of seafloor habitats to how tsunamis spread around the world.

Additionally, those detailed images could also be used by organizations as visual tools to help change the way humanity views and cares for the ocean. Think about it: You’re unlikely to care about something you can’t see and know very little about. Because the ocean is largely unknown, unseen and inaccessible, conservation efforts are often challenged by a sense of futility, apathy and even alienation. Seeing what lies beneath the water’s surface could help inspire the world to protect it.

To view the areas that have been mapped, check out Google Earth. Its 3-D maps—based on 20 years of data from almost 500 ship cruises and 12 different institutions—allow you to virtually explore some of the world’s underwater terrain.

google street view oceans

Another great resource is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website, which offers sea floor maps of the world’s coasts, continental shelves and deep ocean.

There’s no denying that exploring and charting the vast ocean and seafloor is a difficult and costly endeavor; but considering it provides us with about half the oxygen we breathe, our main source of protein and a plethora of mineral resources, among other things we rely on daily, it may be a challenge worth tackling.

 

Happy World Turtle Day!

There are approximately 300 different types of turtles, including seven species of sea turtles. It is estimated that turtles have existed for over 200 million years, making them some of the oldest living creatures on Earth!

Turtles are best known for their hard outer shell, also called a carapace, which protects them. Turtles don’t have teeth, so they use their sharp beaks to tear up their food.

Currently, more than half of the world’s turtle species are threatened or endangered due to centuries of  poorly regulated trade, habitat loss and hunting.

In addition to terrestrial threats, the more the ocean is filled with plastic and debris, the more it is becoming a treacherous environment for sea turtles. Did you know? Plastic bags, for example, can look like jellyfish underwater, causing hungry sea turtles to devour them.

Marine Debris - Plastic Bags

If you were a turtle, could you tell the difference?

The bags are hard for the turtles to digest, and can be fatal if the plastic causes blockages in their digestive system. Research shows that young, ocean-dwelling turtles are eating twice as much plastic as turtles their age did 25 years ago.

Since plastic bags are petroleum-based, they do not biodegrade. By recycling plastic bags or using reusable bags, we can decrease the amount of plastic in the ocean and other water sources, therefore helping out our turtle friends!

Help us celebrate World Turtle Day by taking our 48 Days of Blue pledge to carry all of your purchases with reusable bags!

Thoughtful Thursday: Restoring Virginia’s Sand Dunes

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Summer is fast approaching and soon many of us will be making regular trips to our favorite beaches along the Atlantic coast. Once you’ve made it to that special place where the water meets the sand, you are bound encounter the same warning sign, “Stay off the Dunes.” Have you ever wondered why we are asked to tread lightly on those seemingly ever-shifting dunes?

A healthy dune system is important for ecological and physical reasons. Sand dune vegetation is uniquely adapted to thrive in stressful conditions such as extreme heat, salt spray, drought, limited nutrients and shifting sands. This vegetation provides habitat, including nesting sites, to birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Dunes also provide a physical barrier to the harsh conditions of the sea and act as a reservoir for beach nourishment.

virginia sand dune

Sand dunes protect coastal areas from high winds, salt spray, storms, flooding and erosion due to wave and wind energy. Along the mid-Atlantic seaboard, wave and wind action cause these dunes to shift over time – a natural phenomenon. In many areas, human development over the past century has upset the balance of this natural system and the coastal dune system has degraded over the years.

Development has also made it necessary to minimize the natural migration of shifting systems in order to maintain the built infrastructure. Mankind is only now beginning to find ways to work with nature so that the dunes are preserved and development is better planned to reduce adverse impacts to this habitat.

Naval Air Station Oceana (NASO) – Dam Neck Annex maintains nearly 1,100 acres of land, including four miles of beachfront property on Virginia’s Atlantic coast. The base’s coastal habitat communities contain primary sand dune structures, and marshes. Many of the dunes at the base are degraded or require stabilization. In their present condition, they are eroding along the trailing edge resulting in lost habitat with the potential to hinder base operations.

It is a long-term objective to stabilize these dunes by planting native grasses and installing dune fencing so a protective barrier can be maintained while ensuring the mission of the naval base is not compromised. Working with community volunteers to plant these grasses provides an opportunity to educate local citizens about the importance of dune communities as coastal habitat and provide them with a hands-on opportunity for restoration activities.

The National Aquarium has been working with its partners at Command Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic, and the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center since 2007 to restore sand dunes on the base. Our most recent project (May 16-17) included engaging more than 60 volunteers in the planting of 15,000 native dune grasses and installing dune fences to help stabilize the shoreline and provide habitat.

We will be returning again in the fall of 2014 to continue the work. If you are interested in joining us, click here!

Laura Bankey

On Thin Ice: An In-Depth Look at Endangered Species

With overflowing landfills, the use of harmful chemicals in agriculture and a reliance on unsustainable energy sources, among other factors, the human population’s carbon footprint is ever-expanding. From melting polar ice caps to ocean acidification, the environmental impact is becoming increasingly evident.

The implications of a species disappearing reach far beyond the loss of a single organism. Extinction occurs when the last individual of a species dies, and the disappearance of just one plant or animal can have a cascading effect on an ecosystem.

Leveraging Legislation

On December 28, 1973, Congress passed a monumental piece of legislation—the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the ESA was enacted to protect and restore populations threatened with extinction and their critical habitats.

More than 1,500 species are currently recognized as threatened or endangered by the ESA. The ESA prevents the “take” of those listed species from their habitat and limits trade and poaching of endangered species.

The ESA is a federal law, but it has the benefit of trickling down to state level. States, in many cases, create additional legislation to further the protection of species deemed to be endangered or threatened within their state boundaries.

Simple Changes

Too often the focus of the conversation of endangered species is the harm humans have on the environment. More important, however, is that simple behavioral changes can go a long way toward caring for and reviving the natural world.

Take palm oil.

This vegetable oil, a substitute for the partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats, can be found in everything from cereals and canned soups to baby formula and cosmetics. Through everyday purchases, many of us may be perpetuating the destruction of a habitat that boasts some of the greatest species diversity on Earth.

Palm oil plantations are popping up across Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries at the expense of tropical forests. The many species that depend on these forests, including endangered orangutans, face extreme peril.

orangutan

Something as simple as checking the ingredients before purchase could help save a species thousands of miles away.

A Global Connection

A healthy habitat is one of the most important factors when it comes to protecting endangered species. Under the ESA, regions can be designated as “critical habitat,” or areas essential to the survival of a species, but here is where it gets tricky.

Labeling an area critical habitat does not necessarily prevent the further development of that land. Essentially, the designation serves as a reminder to federal agencies to take extra precautions, even to modify projects, in order to minimize harm to these vital natural spaces.

From the water we drink to the air we breathe, humans rely on healthy ecosystems, and every species contained in an ecosystem plays an integral role in the success of that network.

A Proactive Approach

Not every species will be as lucky as the gray wolf, but it is not all doom and gloom. The diamondback terrapin, for example, though never listed as an endangered species in Maryland, has a history of exploitation.

diamondback terrapin

In the 19th century, terrapins were considered a delicacy and hunted for their use in stews. The demand for the terrapin, combined with other factors, caused their numbers to drop dangerously low.

Recognizing the risk, Maryland passed a law in 2007 ending the commercial harvest of terrapins in state waters. And while it is too soon to quantify the impact, alleviating pressure on a struggling population is a step in the right direction.

Bald eagles, American alligators, the Virginia northern flying squirrel, grizzly bears—there have been numerous success stories. In the best circumstances, a species will be “de-listed” from the ESA, meaning the population recovers to a point where it no longer requires protection under the law.

Do Your Part

Here are a few ways to show you care about the world’s endangered species, no matter where you live:

  1. Be a conscious consumer – Purchase products that are organic, locally grown or sustainably sourced.
  2. Back legislation that impacts the environment – Every comment counts, so if there is an issue you support, call or write a letter to your representative. Learn more about the National Aquarium’s legislative priorities at aqua.org/legislation.
  3. Contribute to a conservation organization – Provide financial support if you can. If you don’t have money to give, donate your time! Visit aqua.org/care to learn about opportunities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
  4. Start in your own backyard – Planting native plants in your garden will attract native wildlife, including invaluable pollinators that help to preserve the natural environment.
  5. Reduce, reuse, recycle –  Join our 48 Days of Blue movement and learn how simple actions can make a big difference in protecting our natural world!

An Update from the CEO: Our Future

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As part of our supportive online community, I want you to be among the first to hear about an ambitious and far-reaching project now underway here called BLUEprint, which we have undertaken to design a robust future for the National Aquarium.

As you know, we are at our core a conservation organization that operates one of the nation’s leading aquariums in pursuit of our mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. This mission drives the work of our Board, staff, and volunteers, yet we know we must evolve to remain relevant. Through BLUEprint, we are probing the foundation of what it means to be a world-class aquarium, both now and in the decades to come.

We have partnered in this effort with exceptionally talented professionals, led by MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang and her world-renowned design and architecture studio, Studio Gang Architects. In addition to creating transformative architecture, Studio Gang employs the tools, methods, and visionary capability of design to catalyze positive change through public engagement and advocacy. We believe their emphasis on work informed by cultural and environmental trends syncs precisely with our design and planning needs.

Here’s a brief overview of the four pillars we are currently exploring in this groundbreaking effort:

I. The future of aquariums worldwide

In the 33 years since the era of modern aquariums began here in Baltimore, we have made quantum leaps in terms of the care we offer our animals, the science that informs our work, and the evolving role of aquariums in the nation and world. We have touched the lives of 50 million guests, many of them students who have grown up with this valuable community resource.

We have also experienced a significant evolution in the audience we serve: it has become younger, more concerned about the health of our planet, and less willing to simply accept the same way of doing things. Our audience of the next 33 years recognizes the urgent need to protect the health of oceans and aquatic habitats worldwide, and we believe we have an obligation to help them learn how they can be a part of the solution.

This has, in part, driven our transformation from an aquarium attraction with a nascent conservation program to a nationally recognized conservation organization that operates a world-class aquarium to carry out its mission. A key part of the BLUEprint inquiry is to identify the core elements of this desired future state and map out the steps it will take to attain it.

II. Reimagining the National Aquarium experience

When it opened, the National Aquarium set a new standard for aquariums, telling a compelling story through its exhibits, creating drama, and evoking powerful messages about the world of water. As it has evolved, the facility has become more diffuse, with three very different exhibit experiences: Australia: Wild Extremes in the Glass Pavilion, the dolphin amphitheater on Pier 4, and the original exhibits on Pier 3. Separated by water and differing exhibit approaches, these experiences have been challenging to unify. This is the central work of the BLUEprint: to weave these exciting but disparate parts together to tell a powerful story of aquatic conservation.

Some of the ideas now in the concept stage include:

  • A “perched wetland” in the slip between our piers to depict the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s quintessential habitats while demonstrating what a healthy, thriving urban waterfront might be
  • A new gallery of exhibits focused on the nation’s 13 marine sanctuaries, which range from Massachusetts to American Samoa in the mid-Pacific
  • A more cohesive visitor pathway
  • Public access to back-of-house zones traditionally off-exhibit, such as our animal care center, marine animal rescue facilities, veterinary lab, and food preparation space
  • A fresh approach that could make the bridge between our piers an exhibit experience unto itself.

Among others, these concepts are now being tested in the marketplace by our predictive analytics firm IMPACTS for efficacy and feasibility. Our objective is to reimagine the National Aquarium experience and implement those changes over the next 10 years.

III.  Designing a new role in the nation’s capital

As you may know, we operated the original National Aquarium in the Department of Commerce Building in Washington, DC, from 2003 until last fall, when it was closed to make way for the U.S. General Services Administration’s $1 billion renovation of its 1930s-era building. At that time, we pledged to find a way to continue the National Aquarium’s presence in the capital, and since then, two compelling ideas have emerged.

The “ocean embassy” idea envisions a program spearheaded by the National Aquarium to bring together ocean advocates, aquarium leaders, and policymakers to perform for the ocean what embassies do for nations: debate issues, promote mutual welfare, negotiate disputes, and represent the interests of their constituents. As a matter of fact, the open ocean comprises 43 percent of the planet, yet it is ungoverned. We believe that such critical ecosystems need an embassy, and our partners at Studio Gang are investigating possible approaches for the idea.

We are also exploring potential collaborations with our colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution; discussions continue and we are optimistic about future partnerships.

IV. The future of dolphins at the National Aquarium

As we develop, evaluate, and refine our plans, our highest priority is to ensure the health and well-being of the animals in our care.

To that end, with a heightened understanding of the emerging science and an intimate knowledge of the eight dolphins in our care, we are studying and evaluating all possible options for providing them with the best possible living environment in the years ahead.

In fact, we began this evolution two years ago with the introduction of Dolphin Discovery, a new interpretive approach to exhibiting our dolphin colony. There are no longer scheduled shows, and guests can come and go from the amphitheater as they please. Now, guests are invited to engage in one-on-one conversations with the biologists who care for the animals, and interaction sessions focus on natural behaviors as an analog for the dolphins’ lives in the wild. These efforts have already garnered us recognition as an innovative leader among aquariums worldwide.

Our next step is to evaluate the most beneficial options for our aging animals, like 42-year-old Nani, who has been with us since the opening of our current dolphin pavilion. There are many issues to consider when planning for the future of these social, cognitively advanced mammals.

Later this month, we will host a summit to convene animal care experts, veterinarians, and biologists to determine the feasibility of a variety of potential solutions, including designing and building a dolphin sanctuary in an ocean-side setting and exploring in detail the requirements for operating such a facility. We will pursue our exploration and address this need with our highest priority in clear view: to ensure the continued health and well-being of our dolphin colony.

Though we have achieved much over our first decades, we are not resting on our laurels. To the contrary, we are embracing these changes enthusiastically as we design a future that will ensure we remain relevant to audiences of tomorrow.

We are pleased to report that even at this early phase of our work, we have caught the attention of The New Yorker magazine, whose May 19 “Innovators Issue” features a story on Jeanne Gang and highlights our BLUEprint project.

Since its beginnings, the National Aquarium has been a proud partner in Baltimore’s renaissance and the Inner Harbor’s rebirth. The reputation we have worked hard to build over these years has earned us the distinction of being one of Maryland’s leading attractions, with a well-documented, positive economic impact on the city and the state.

We take this role seriously. We know it is only possible thanks to the dedication and generosity of our family of supporters, and we thank you for your commitment to our work. We plan to continue to share this journey with you and invite your feedback as our plans evolve.

To sign up for email updates on BLUEprint and to offer feedback and questions, please visit aqua.org/future.

Together, we will attain our vision to change the way humanity views and cares for the ocean. After all, it’s what gives us life.

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Conservation Re-cap: NWF Annual Meeting

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Conservation partners from the 49 state affiliates of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) met in Baltimore last week to hear and learn from each other’s efforts to protect and improve our blue planet.  This year’s conference theme was WATER: It Connects Us All.

As the host affiliate for the state of Maryland, the National Aquarium not only helped steer some of the conversation, we also had a chance to display some of our aquatic conservation initiatives to a national audience.

Highlights of the conference included:

  • Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, addressed the audience during the Opening Session and spoke about government transparency and the critical importance of public participation in the federal regulation and rule-making processes
  • Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, spoke about the explicit need for individuals and communities to create a groundswell of positive change to both hold the public sector accountable and support and reinforce good work
  • Conservation organizations from across the country shared innovative ideas on improving both water quality and water quantity in local and regional jurisdictions, and managing invasive species in our ecosystems
  • Conservation policy resolutions were passed that would help provide the future framework for NWF work.  These included initiatives focused on alternative energy, deforestation, invasive species, fisheries management and climate change
  • George Hawkins, General Manager of DC Water spoke about “making our cities work” and improving urban infrastructure to help relieve development pressure put on rural landscapes

As the local sponsor, National Aquarium had a chance to highlight healthy aquatic communities around the world by inviting meeting participants into our Baltimore venue for an evening.  We were also able to show our partners our successful education and stewardship work at both Fort McHenry and Masonville Cove through off-site field trips.

Aquarium staff also shared our expertise in climate change communication and social media strategies to build the capacity of other organizations in those areas!

At the end of the meeting, participants had an opportunity to hear from Collin O’Mara, NWF’s newly appointed President and CEO.  He left us with the following charge: “Confronting the pressing conservation challenges of this generation will require that Americans from every corner of our nation and every walk of life work together community by community and state by state to drive change at the national and international level.”  We couldn’t agree more.

Laura Bankey


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