Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Age of Aquariums: Amazing Animal Watching Vacations Part 3

Oceans are the largest ecosystems on the planet. They produce half of the oxygen we breathe and contain 97% of the world’s water. Oceans provide a sixth of the animal protein in human diets and are the most promising source of new medicines to fight cancer and other diseases. On top of all that, they absorb about a third of the carbon dioxide emissions we produce, which helps reduce the rate of climate change. In a nutshell, we need them.

Pacific bluefin tuna return to the aquarium in the newly-transformed Open Sea exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Pacific bluefin is a commercially valuable species, but due to overfishing, Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program has put all bluefin tunas on the "Avoid" list. © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder
Unfortunately, these ecosystems are vulnerable and are becoming increasingly degraded. Overfishing of many species is not only destroying populations of those species, but also the many other species that depend on them. Destructive fishing methods, pollution, soil runoff and increased water temperatures are destroying the delicate coral reef communities that serve as nurseries for a wide range of ocean life. These are not small problems in a few isolated places. For example, up to 88% of the Southeast Asian coral reefs are now threatened.

Last week we talked about the role of aquariums in teaching us about wonderful marine habitats and animals, but simply learning about these environments is not enough if we can’t keep them around and healthy for future generations. Many aquariums play a vital role in conservation and research. Here are a couple of leaders in the field:

The Monterey Bay Aquarium:

The Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California is on a mission to inspire and support ocean conservation. Their exhibits devoted to the varied habitats around the Monterey Bay include a living three-story kelp forest, a Monterey Bay Habitats exhibit, and a playful otter exhibit. The Vanishing Wildlife window shows a ground-floor view of sea turtles, sharks and tunas, all magnificent animals that need our protection if their populations are going to survive. This exhibit shows how researchers, conservationists and people working in the fishing industry work together to support these species and others.

An adult Southern sea otter that was reared by a
surrogate mother through the aquarium's Sea Otter
Research and Conservation (SORAC) program has
successfully given birth to her second pup in the wild.
©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has an extensive Research and Conservation focus, including a dozen programs. One of these programs, the Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program, has been studying and rescuing southern sea otters since 1984. Southern sea otters are a keystone species, eating sea urchins and other invertebrates that graze on kelp forests. Yet in the early 1900s, sea otters were hunted until only about 50 otters remained along the California coast. Thanks to protection under international treaty and support by programs like SORAC, their numbers have grown to nearly 3000.

The New England Aquarium:

The New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts (which uses the slogan “Protecting the blue planet”) has over 70 exhibits featuring animals from around the world. But they also have a number of programs to protect species and their habitats, rescue and rehabilitate wildlife, support research on wildlife medicine, research the effects of climate change, and support sustainable fisheries.

The New England Aquarium Endangered Species and Habitats Program has been working to protect and preserve ecosystems and conserve threatened animal species for over 20 years. Their conservation projects span the world and are all guided by understanding the biology of the system and collaborating with people that are affected by it. For example, Project Piaba has been working with Amazonian fishermen in Brazil since 1989 to create sustainable fisheries. Not only does this approach improve the health of the animal species and their habitats, but it helps the local people develop a more stable income by using their natural resources in a more sustainable way.

Coral reefs near Enderbury Island, Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA)
©New England Aquarium/Dr. Randi Rotjan
Another great example is the preservation of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). Since their first visit in 2000, PIPA is now one of the largest marine protected areas in the world and an irreplaceable research site. Research at PIPA focuses on exploration, connectivity within the marine ecosystem and reef resilience.

Do you want to know what you can do to help protect our ocean habitats? The Live Blue program has a list of Ten Ways You Can Make a Difference.

For information on more great aquariums, check out last week’s post. For other animal watching ideas, go here and here.

Want to know more about ocean threats? Check these out:

1. Burrows MT, Schoeman DS, Buckley LB, Moore P, Poloczanska ES, Brander KM, Brown C, Bruno JF, Duarte CM, Halpern BS, Holding J, Kappel CV, Kiessling W, O'Connor MI, Pandolfi JM, Parmesan C, Schwing FB, Sydeman WJ, & Richardson AJ (2011). The pace of shifting climate in marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Science (New York, N.Y.), 334 (6056), 652-5 PMID: 22053045

2. Sylvia Earle’s book The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One

Do you have a favorite aquarium? Tell us below and I might cover it in a future post.

1 comment:

  1. I really like the aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences. It's not as extensive as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but the Academy has a Philippine coral reef, which is wonderful, and the lower level of their Rainforest exhibit is the flooded Amazon.