Posts Tagged 'thoughtful thursday'

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


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!


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


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! 


Thoughtful Thursdays: Looking Past World Oceans Day


If you ask anyone to use one word to describe the ocean, you’ll most likely hear one of the following; amazing, awesome, powerful, wonderful, hypnotic, miraculous, magical, vast, incredible, inspiring, etc. Of course, there are many, many more descriptive words for the sea, but these are the most popular – and the most emotional. They all communicate much more than a technical description. These are words that evoke deep sensitivities. Maybe it is because we know the ocean provides for us – or that we depend on it for so many things or maybe it is because we are instinctively aware of our deep connection to the ocean.

Few things are more peaceful than staring out at the ocean!

Few things are more peaceful than staring out at the ocean!

June 8th is World Oceans Day. At the National Aquarium, we will take this opportunity to talk to our guests and community about why we love the ocean and why it deserves our protection. We will also spend some time talking about the challenges that the ocean is facing, challenges like pollution, global warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification and overfishing. This weekend, we’ll offer activities designed to provide ideas on ocean-friendly choices we all can make at home and we’ll invite our visitors to join us at one of our upcoming ocean conservation events. I hope you’ll be able to join us this weekend!

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

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

More importantly, once you go back to your normal lives next week, I’d like to ask that you continue your passion for our oceans. Take what you learned on World Oceans Day and incorporate them into your daily routines. I know this is easier said than done – so I’d like to offer some tips on how to make this easier:

  • Decide what you love most about the ocean. This could be its plants or animals, beaches, recreation opportunities or its resources!
  • Find ways you can help what you love. Research some of challenges our ocean is facing and identify those that particularly effect the thing you love the most. I.e. if you love sea turtles, you might want to work on plastics pollution, fisheries bycatch issues, nesting beach protection or endangered species conservation.
  • Decide on one thing you will change in your life that will make a positive change. Now you know you want to help reduce the amount of plastics in the ocean. You can decide if you want to help remove what is already there (participate in community cleanup events like the International Coastal Cleanup) or reduce what our society is adding to the problem by decreasing or eliminating some single-use plastics (like water bottles and disposable coffee cups) in your life.
  • Commit to making that change a permanent part of your daily routine by World Ocean’s Day 2014. Honestly, changing your daily routine is not easy. It will not happen overnight and will take significant and ongoing commitment – even for seemingly easy changes. So I’m also asking you to give yourself a break. Give yourself time to make this happen. Make a World Oceans Day Resolution! Commit to making a change this year, set a goal, mark your progress throughout the year and then, ideally, you will reach your goal by next World Oceans Day!
  • Celebrate your success and share your stories with us along the way! Give yourself a pat on the back. Committing to, working towards and ultimately hitting your goal was not easy and you deserve to feel proud. Maybe you volunteered for 3 cleanup events and helped remove 60 lbs. of trash that otherwise would have made its way into our ocean. Maybe you stopped buying bottled water and removed 365 bottles from the waste stream. Congratulations! You’re making a difference. Share your stories with us so that your successes can help inspire others to make a difference for our oceans. Warning: Helping our ocean can be addictive. I predict (and hope) that this one commitment will lead to others along the way.

The ocean is a treasure worthy of our respect and admiration. Thank you in advance for making a difference!


Thoughtful Thursdays: World Water Day

World Water Day

Held annually on March 22, the United Nation’s World Water Day brings attention to the importance of freshwater and advocates for the sustainable management of freshwater. Globally, freshwater accessibility is critical for the survival of all living things, yet it is a significantly threatened resource.

Yes, the world is 70 percent water, a staggering amount. Of that water, however, 97.5 percent is salt water and just 2.5 percent is freshwater. The UN and like-minded institutions hope that World Water Day will help people recognize the importance of freshwater and the need to conserve this precious resource.

Like all living things, aquatic animals require plenty of water to survive. So, how does the Aquarium keep our animals happy and healthy and still manage to conserve freshwater?

If you’ve visited the Aquarium in recent years, chances are you’ve strolled through Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Waterfront Park (the greenery in front of our Pier). Did you know that underneath the plant life is a system of cisterns? A cistern is a waterproof receptacle for holding liquids. In 2012, we were able to collect an estimated 200,000 gallons of rain water that was then used to water the park. As a result, not a single drop of domestic water was used!

National Aquarium staff have also worked tirelessly to design and implement the most efficient filtration systems throughout many of our exhibits. These upgrades saved more than 430,000 gallons of water last year! Additionally, our new Blacktip Reef exhibit will have a state-of-the-art filtration system installed to further reduce our need for water, while still providing a healthy and thriving environment for our animals!

Want to do your part to conserve freshwater? Here are some easy ways to get started:

  • Knowing where your water comes from is the first step in better protecting it! The Nature Conservancy has a great interactive map that can help you find your local water source!
  • When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run while rinsing. Fill one sink with wash water and the other with rinse water.
  • Put food coloring in your toilet tank. If it seeps into the toilet bowl without flushing, you have a leak. Fixing it can save up to 1,000 gallons a month.
  • Shorten your shower by a minute or two and you’ll save up to 150 gallons per month.
  • Water your lawn and garden in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler to minimize evaporation. Better yet, plant native plants in your yard. They require less water, fertilizer and time!

Do you have tips on how to conserve freshwater? Let us know in the comments section!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Becoming a “Master Naturalist”

On February 2, the National Aquarium and Living Classrooms Foundation welcomed 18 new trainees into the Maryland Master Naturalist Program. Volunteers from the Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) and the Friends of Masonville Cove will work collaboratively to sharpen their outdoor skills and boost their knowledge of Maryland’s natural environment. The program’s mission is to engage citizens as stewards of Maryland’s natural ecosystems and resources through science-based education and volunteer service in their communities.

Throughout the program, Master Naturalist trainees will learn about various environmental topics in Maryland, specifically tailored to our coastal plains region and the Chesapeake Bay. Topics include ecology, flora and fauna, natural history, interpretation, and many more.

Master naturalists students learning how to properly identify local species of fish.

Master naturalist students learning how to properly identify local species of fish.

Upon completion of their training, Master Naturalists pledge to complete 40 hours of conservation-related volunteer work per year! The extensive training will give them the skills and knowledge to interpret natural settings for members of the public and hopefully inspire our community to conserve our natural resources.

Thus far, our volunteers have learned about interpretation, ecology, botany, science, and fish. Instructors range from nonprofit professionals, to Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologists, to biology professors from local universities. During the botany training, students learned about common plants in Maryland and how to identify them, and why all of the different Maryland species of plants are important. Perhaps most importantly, they discussed the common invasive plant species in Maryland, and how to help manage them. Trainees closely examined flowers to learn about plant parts, which can be useful when following a field guide to identify flora in the field.

The Aquarium’s first class of Master Naturalists will graduate in May and plans are in the works to host another training session in 2014! For more updates on our many conservation initiatives, click here to sign up for our Aquamail newsletter!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Will You Be Our Valentine?

This Valentine’s Day, we’ve rounded up a list of the Aquarium’s most “romantic” animals! From seabirds that co-parent to seahorses that hold tails, learn how these marine animals show love:

French Angelfish

french angelfish

Ah, the French. (Known for their romantic flair both above and under water!)

French angelfish form a monogamous bond that lasts as long as both fish are alive. They live, travel and hunt in their pair. If a mature french angelfish is seen alone, it’s usually because their mate has passed away, they never look for a new one.



Clownfish also mate for life. The male and his mate will live together (in the anemone or reef crevice of their choice) and aggressively guard their eggs until they hatch.


longsnout seahorses

Seahorses have a very intimate courtship, they hold tails, swim snout-to-snout and engage in a courtship dance. Once the male seahorse is pregnant (yes, the male carries the eggs to term), the female visits him every morning and holds his tail. They also mate for life.



Barramundi perform a love dance during mating. Every year, the barramundi return to their birthplace to spawn (they also only mate during a full moon). Many Australian myths claim these fish have special aphrodisiac qualities. It’s because of that belief that they’re colloquially  known as “passion fish.”

Scarlet Ibis

scarlet ibis

To attract a female, the male scarlet ibis performs a complex array of mating rituals (including a shaking dance and head rubbing). After a successful courtship, the female will lay eggs and the pair will both watch over the eggs and co-parent their young. Scarlet ibises mate for life!



Puffins also form long-term pair bonds. The female lays a single egg and both parents incubate it and feed the “puffling” once it hatches. Puffins will often return to the same nesting site every year.

Happy Valentine’s Day! How are you celebrating today? Tell us in the comments! 

Sign up for AquaMail

Like us on Facebook!

Twitter Updates