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


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!


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.

monterey bay aquarium seafood watch

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.

noaa fishwatch

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.


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.”

We’ve Hired Our First-Ever Chief Conservation Officer

eric schwaabWe’re excited to announce Eric Schwaab as our first-ever Senior Vice President and Chief Conservation Officer (CCO). With a realignment of priorities that emphasizes an updated conservation mission, Schwaab’s appointment represents the Aquarium’s new dedication to serve as a national leader in ocean preservation and environmental stewardship.

“With the confirmation of Eric Schwaab as our Chief Conservation Officer, we are setting an agenda for National Aquarium’s future,” said John Racanelli, National Aquarium CEO. “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.”

As CCO, Schwaab, who assumes responsibilities July 1, will provide strategic vision and leadership for the National Aquarium’s Conservation and Science Division, a team of 130 professionals, engaging in initiatives ranging from field conservation and biological programs to legislative advocacy and animal rescue.

Schwaab currently serves as Acting Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management for the US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In this role he works closely with Congress, other agency leaders, partner organizations and local communities to develop policies and take conservation action to ensure sustainable federal fisheries, promote coastal stewardship and enhance protection of ocean habitats. Previously, as Assistant Administrator for Fisheries at NOAA from 2010-2012, Schwaab directed the National Marine Fisheries Service. He was responsible for science, management and conservation of federal fisheries, marine mammals, sea turtles and other protected resources within the United States. Schwaab led the agency’s national requirement to end overfishing, the implementation of “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.

The National Aquarium is changing the way the world views conservation by instilling a sense of urgency on issues that affect aquatic ecosystems worldwide, including the Chesapeake Bay. In the ocean policy arena, the National Aquarium has recently focused its efforts on a ban on the sale and trade of shark fins, offshore wind development, plastic and beverage container deposits and watershed conservation.

“Through its current work in conservation and science, National Aquarium is redefining the role of public aquaria as catalysts for tangible change in how people care for oceans and aquatic systems,” said Schwaab. “The Aquarium’s role as a trusted source of information and its 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 leading this charge.”

Prior to his work with NOAA, Schwaab spent three years as Deputy Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, where he worked extensively with legislative leaders and other agencies to support important state conservation initiatives, including Chesapeake Bay restoration, forest and park land conservation and fisheries rebuilding. Schwaab’s 20 plus years of conservation stewardship in Maryland also include service as Director of the Fisheries Service (1999-2003); Director of the Forest, Wildlife & Heritage Service (1995-1999); Director of the Forest Service (1992-1995); and Chief of Resource Management for Maryland Forest & Park Service (1989-1992). From 2003 into 2007, Schwaab served as Resource Director for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, coordinating conservation work on behalf of fish and wildlife agencies across North America.

Schwaab, who currently serves as the NOAA Administrator designee on the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology from McDaniel College and a Master of Arts degree in Geography and Environmental Planning from Towson University. He also completed a leadership program for senior executives in state and local government at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Happy 40th Birthday, NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries!

For 40 years, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary system has preserved some of the most treasured and endangered resources in our oceans. This underwater network of national parks, first established in 1972 – exactly 100 years after America’s first national park was created, protects more than 18,000 square miles of ocean waters and habitats!

national marine sanctuaries

Congratulations & happy birthday to all our friends at NOAA!

Visit the National Marine Sanctuaries all in one place!
Our Washington, DC venue highlights all thirteen sanctuaries as well as marine national monument as part of a partnership with NOAA to help spread awareness and inspire conservation of these amazing ecosystems. You can explore the following sanctuaries during your visit:

  • Florida Keys NMS – This sanctuary is a complex marine ecosystem surrounding the Florida Keys archipelago, an island chain known worldwide for its extensive offshore coral reef. The waters surrounding most of the 1,700 islands that make up the Florida Keys have been designated a sanctuary since 1990. The Florida Keys marine environment is the foundation for the commercial fishing and tourism-based economies that are vital to southern Florida.
Florida Keys

Florida Keys Gallery

  • USS Monitor NMS – located off the coast of Newport News, Virginia, this wreck of a Civil War-era ship was the first designated marine sanctuary!
  • Flower Garden Banks NMS – Flower Garden is located about 110 miles off the coast of Texas and Louisiana. It harbors the northernmost coral reefs in the continental United States and serves as a regional reservoir of shallow-water Caribbean reef fishes and invertebrates.
  • Gray’s Reef NMS – Gray’s Reef is located 17 miles off Sapelo Island, Georgia. It is one of the largest near-shore sandstone reefs in the southeastern United States. The rocky platform, some 60–70 feet below the Atlantic Ocean’s surface, is wreathed in a carpet of attached organisms. This flourishing ecosystem provides not only vertical relief, but also a solid base for the abundant invertebrates to attach to and grow upon.
Loggerhead turtle

A loggerhead turtle in our Gray’s Reef gallery

  • Cordell Bank NMS – Cordell Bank is located approximately 52 miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge at the edge of the continental shelf. Upwelling of nutrient-rich ocean waters and the bank’s topography create one of the most biologically productive areas on the West Coast. The site is a lush feeding ground for many marine mammals and seabirds.
  • Olympic Coast NMS – along the Olympic Peninsula coastline of the Pacific Northwest, sits this protected continental shelf and several submarine canyons. This upwell zone is a home to marine mammals such as orcas and seabirds. Throughout the sanctuary, kelp keeps pockets of tidal communities teeming with fish. In addition to these ecological resources, this area also preserves over 200 shipwrecks.
  • Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale NMS – In the shallow waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands, this sanctuary represents one of the world’s most important humpback whale habitats.
  • Stellwagen Bank NMS – located at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay, this sanctuary was the first in New England. It was first designated to protect endangered whales from the shifting of shipping lanes in busy commercial waters. Since its establishment, striking of these whales has been reduced by 81 percent, according to NOAA.
Stellwagen Bank

Toby, our blue lobster, in the Stellwagen Bank gallery

  • Fagatele Bay NMS – Fagatele is located on Tutuila, the largest island of American Samoa, and is the only true tropical coral reef in the National Marine Sanctuary Program. This complex ecosystem, with its exceptionally high level of biological productivity, is the smallest and most remote of all sanctuaries.
Fagetele Bay

Fagatele Bay gallery

  • Gulf of the Farallones NMS – near San Francisco, this sanctuary was critical to the creation of Beach Watch, one of the first citizen-science monitoring projects within NOAA. This volunteer program helps to protect a lush cold water coral reef, abundant with many threatened and endangered species.
  • Monterey Bay NMS – this rocky, rugged area off the coast of Southern California acts as a home or migration corridor for 26 species of marine mammals, close to 100 species of seabirds, close to 400 species of fish and invertebrates and four species of sea turtles. A mixture of habitats including open ocean, rocky shores, sandy beaches and lush kelp forests.
  • Channel Islands NMS – The Channel Islands are located 25 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. The waters that swirl around the five islands within the sanctuary combine warm and cool currents to create an exceptional breeding ground for many species of plants and animals.
Leopard sharks

Leopard sharks in our Channel Islands gallery

  • Thunder Bay NMS – off the eastern coast of Michigan, this sanctuary protects a collection of shipwrecks in Lake Huron. Not only are these developed ecosystems an important research tool, but this area has become a major tourist destination and economic stimulant in the area – further spreading awareness of how important it is to protect marine wildlife.
  • Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument – located in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, this is the single largest conservation area in the US and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The monument encompasses close to 140,000 square miles of Pacific Ocean – an area larger than all the country’s national parks combined.

We are so happy to  share these small glimpses into such a diverse and beautiful network of environments. Thanks to NOAA and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act for allowing us to continue to enjoy and protect America’s underwater treasures for many years to come!

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