Posts Tagged 'thoughtful thursday'



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.

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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

Thoughtful Thursday: It’s National Seafood Month!

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October is National Seafood Month – a chance for us to highlight and celebrate healthy food choices and healthy oceans.

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At the National Aquarium, we are working hard to improve the health of our ocean ecosystems and the sustainability of our fish stocks. Healthy marine ecosystems provide many benefits, none more obvious than the seafood we eat.

Across our country we have a long history of close connections to our local seafood. From Maine lobster, pacific salmon and Gulf of Mexico red snapper, to Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, people and communities grew to thrive and depend on local seafood production. And these relationships have helped us to better understand the need to care for both our oceans and the fish they support. But like much of the food we buy, even as choices have multiplied, our connections to seafood have gotten more complicated.

Think of your last seafood meal. Really think.

Chances are you remember how it tasted, how it was prepared, the people that shared the meal with you, possibly even the nutritional value of your choice. Chances are also that you did NOT think about the long and often complicated journey involved in getting that seafood to your plate, your choice of fish and where and how it was caught or farmed.

Most likely, you aren’t even sure if that fish came from the United States (currently over 80 percent of our seafood is imported.) You also may not even know for sure that you really got the type of fish that was advertised. Yet informed purchasing choices are among the most powerful ways that each of us can support both sustainable seafood and healthy oceans.

During each week in October, we are going to highlight different subjects related to making thoughtful seafood choices. We’ll talk about fisheries, sustainability, supply chains, traceability, eating local, pirate fishing, human health and economics. Seafood can be a really healthy food choice – but we want to make sure we maximize those health benefits for our families. We also want to ensure health benefits for our oceans. Check back each week to learn about the issues facing our seafood choices and how we can work together to make a difference.

Laura Bankey

Thoughtful Thursday: The Nation’s First Urban Wildlife Refuge!

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National Aquarium is proud to announce that our circle of partners at Masonville Cove will now include a federal agency: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)!  Today, the National Aquarium and its partners joined with government officials and community members to formally announce Masonville Cove as the first Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership in the United States.

John Sarbanes

Congressman Sarbanes speaking at today’s designation.

Through the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership program, FWS offices across the nation embarked on a mission to join forces with their local, urban conservation counterparts.  Dozens of worthy applications were submitted for official recognition, and eight partnerships were accepted for designation and support.  We are thrilled to announce that our own Masonville Cove is one of these eight!

Masonville Cove

Part of the recently restored area at Masonville Cove!

About the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership Program
While the FWS refuge system encompasses some of our country’s most pristine and unique landscapes, a majority of the refuges are in remote locations, making them inaccessible to large portions of the population.  With 80 percent of Americans living in urban areas, they identified the need to find innovative ways to share the FWS mission with this expanded audience. Cue the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program!

Ultimately, the goal is to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.  Through this new program, FWS aims to have a broader and more effective impact through partnering with existing urban conservation organizations.

At National Aquarium, our mission is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures, and we are proud to take that mission beyond our doors with our amazing group of conservation partners. Today was a special day for National Aquarium at Masonville Cove.

National Aquarium is working to engage students and other local citizens in the process of habitat restoration and we are thrilled to be a part of this unique project – one that highlights the importance of creating and supporting a home for wildlife within an urban center and one that helps bring opportunities to connect with wildlife to urban populations.

 Eric Schwaab, Chief Conservation Officer for National Aquarium. 

Eric Schwaab at Masonville Cove

Our CCO, Eric Schwaab, speaking at today’s event.

While this initiative does not make the land at Masonville Cove a National Wildlife Refuge, it does mean that the FWS presence will be felt at the campus.  Already, several benefits have been realized including a FWS intern stationed at Masonville Cove, and the creation of a Wildlife Management Plan to maximize habitat use at the site.  All of the organizations involved share a common goal of environmental conservation and restoration, and by working together we all increase our chances of making this goal a reality in urban centers.

About Masonville Cove

The Masonville Cove Nature Area was opened in 2012 on a restored site owned by the Maryland Port Administration on the Patapsco River, allowing public access to the cove for the first time in over 70 years. The nature area offers opportunities within the city limits for walking, fishing, bird watching and other recreational activities. Currently 11 acres of the nature area are open to the public and, after further restoration in the next few years, 52 acres will be open to the public. National Aquarium helps lead community-based restoration efforts on the sight, engaging more than 1,000 volunteers in planting more than 45,000 native plants along the shoreline so far, including a wetland restoration event just last week.

Conservation Team at Masonville Cove

Our conservation team checking out Masonville Cove’s new official Urban Wildlife Refuge signage!

If you are interested in visiting the cove, there are many opportunities for recreation and educational programming.  Visit www.masonvillecove.org for details.  Masonville Cove is also looking for volunteers who love nature and enjoy sharing their passion with others! Friends of Masonville Cove work to improve and manage this urban wilderness area, as well as introduce other community members to the educational and recreational activities Masonville Cove has to offer. If you are interested in a long-term volunteer opportunity involving everything from debris cleanups to gardening to scientific wetland monitoring, please e-mail friends@masonvillecove.org for more information.

The National Aquarium will be hosting another habitat restoration opportunity at the Cove next Spring.  Sign up for our e-newsletter to keep up-to-date on these and other volunteer opportunities!

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Thoughtful Thursday: International Coastal Cleanup

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The International Coastal Cleanup is an annual coordinated volunteer effort to remove debris that has accumulated in our oceans and on our coasts. It is a chance for world citizens that are concerned about the health of our oceans and waterways to participate in meaningful action that will make a difference. In 2012, more than 560,000 volunteers from 97 countries picked up more the 10 million pounds of trash. This year’s efforts begin this weekend and will last throughout the coming weeks.

ft. mchenry cleanup

All types of volunteer groups will join forces over the next couple of weekends to remove and quantify the trash ending up in our waters. Because this is a coordinated effort led by the Ocean Conservancy, each volunteer will be asked to fill out a standard data sheet. This allows event coordinators to track the amount and types of trash that end up on our coasts every year and to make comparisons across the globe and through the years. Ultimately, it informs and focuses the efforts being made to change behaviors that will benefit our natural world.

The top ten list of items found on our beaches during the cleanup should come as no surprise to anyone. The list includes cigarettes, plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers and straws – all single use items that we’ve come to rely on in our society of convenience. With the exception of cigarettes, the global list closely mirrors the list the National Aquarium has been tallying at Fort McHenry over the past 14 years. Of the 600,000+ items collected in this area over the years, more than 95 percent has been plastic or foamed plastic.

These items weren’t born in the ocean or the harbor, they were carelessly discarded on land and delivered to the nearest stream (often via storm sewers). From here, there are carried downstream by the tides and water flow until they end up on a shoreline somewhere.

Plastic debris at Ft. McHenry National Monument and Shrine here in Baltimore. Plastic pollution is seriously hurting the ocean and its inhabitants!

We know, if we want to make a difference, we need to stop the debris at its source – cleaning it up after the fact is not a long-term solution! We need to look at our own behaviors and determine how to eliminate the flow of debris from our homes to our streets to our waterways. We thought that if we focus on the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) we would be successful.

For many years, the emphasis has been on recycling. In truth, recycling should be our last choice. Our ultimate success will depend upon how well we can assimilate the fourth R into the equation – Refuse. This world does not have unlimited resources and we need to stop acting like it does. We need to be thoughtful in our everyday consumer decisions so that we look beyond the gratification of that warm cup of coffee or cold soda and begin to consider the real-world costs of the decisions we make. The real-world cost of using non-degradable, oil-based, disposable drink ware instead of carrying a reusable coffee mug.

In the mean time, while we are figuring out how to turn our consumer society on it’s ear, we have a big mess to clean up. In my job, I get to see much of the Chesapeake Bay. I get to travel to it’s islands and remote wetland habitats and enjoy all of the benefits our natural world has to offer. In all of those travels, I have never seen a shoreline unmarred by the sight of trash. It’s everywhere. Baltimore and the more populated areas of the watershed are admittedly more affected by debris, but there is no place that is immune. If we want to truly champion a healthy Chesapeake (healthy for humans and animals alike), we need a trash-free environment. It is possible and we can start today.

If you haven’t already, register to join us at our October 5th Fort McHenry event in Baltimore or find another International Coastal Cleanup event near you!

Blog-Header-LauraBankey

Thoughtful Thursday: How Will You Spend Your Day To Serve?

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Last year more than 14,000 volunteers at 750 community service projects donated their time and talents during the first-annual Day to Serve. This unique event “unites people of all faiths, races, cultures, and backgrounds with the shared goal of helping those in need and improving the communities where we live”.

In 2013 event organizers hope to double the effort. They have set aside September 15-29 for the event and have asked organizations around the region to rally their volunteers to “Feed the Hungry. Heal the Planet.”

Governor Martin O’Malley says, “Starting September 15th, we’ll work together as a community – as Marylanders and Virginians, West Virginians and Washingtonians – to harness the incredible power of service. Marylanders are a compassionate, generous people who know the way forward can be found by helping our neighbors in need. For the second year in a row, we encourage all our citizens to join us in recognizing the connections between the health of our people, and the health of our land, water and air. Together, we can eradicate hunger, and protect and restore our environment.”

In honor of this year’s Day to Serve, the National Aquarium will host a wetland restoration project at Masonville Cove!

Masonville Cove

Local students and community volunteers will be planting 15,000 native wetland grasses along the banks of the Patapsco River. This event is part of a much larger restoration project that will be part of the long-term mission to revitalize the Baltimore Harbor, and will help to create valuable aquatic habitat right here in Baltimore City! This fringe wetland will create foraging ground for fish species like striped bass and white perch, and will provide nesting habitat for shorebirds.

Click here if you would like to join this greater effort to improve our communities. Hope to see you there!

The Masonville Cove Project is a partnership between the National Aquarium, Maryland Port Administration, Maryland Environmental Service, and The Living Classrooms Foundation.

Blog-Header-LauraBankey

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


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