Showing posts tagged as "Conservation"
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Sea Palm Culture: In the Weeds
Our Kelp Forest exhibit is a visitor favorite. It’s gorgeous, and in 1984 it was the first living kelp forest grown outside the wild.
Today it’s home to a forest of giant kelp and bull kelp, and an understory of more than 65 other species of algae that colonize the exhibit as their spores enter with the raw seawater from Monterey Bay.
Thirty years later, we’ve created a second kelp forest in our galleries. Like the original, it’s home to marine algae that have never been grown at an aquarium. It’s every bit as remarkable as the original (if a bit smaller).
Look closely and you’ll find it in our Wave Crash exhibit, outside the signature walk-through tunnel. The exhibit resembles the complex ecosystem of the rocky shore because Aquarist Reggie Gary has painstakingly coaxed sea palms, feather boa kelp and at least three species of rockweed to grow in a man-made environment.
No. 1 algae fan: Julie Packard
Reggie’s efforts have won him a big fan: Executive Director Julie Packard.
“I fell in love with the ocean studying the amazing diversity of seaweeds on our rocky shores,” says Julie. “Sea palms are limited to really wild shorelines and it’s always a special treat to see them! We were proud to pull off growing giant kelp – but I never imagined we’d be able to grow sea palms. They are really challenging. Kudos to Reggie!”
You can see them at Point Lobos, or on the exposed rocky shorelines of Big Sur. They’re almost cartoon-like – a living Dr. Seuss creation.
Sea palms thrive under the harshest conditions: battered by fierce waves, alternately submerged in the surf and exposed to the air.
Just like Goldilocks
If the rocks are underwater too much of the time, or too high above the waves, they can’t support sea palms. Like Goldilocks, conditions have to be “just right.” Creating “just right” conditions is Reggie’s labor of love.
“I got a little emotional when I saw the first sea palms starting to grow, because no one else is doing it,” he says. “These are my babies.”
He started by collecting a few sea palms from the wild. He experimented, placing them in different locations in the outdoor Wave Crash pool, with mixed results.
He finally found the perfect spots: two exposed pinnacles that project above the water and are battered every 30 seconds by artificial waves.
Palm trees of the rocky shore
These hollow-tubed algae resemble miniature palm trees, and can grow to be just over two feet tall.
The adults that Reggie first collected produced microscopic gametophytes, the male and female offspring that colonize the exhibit. Each spring, in March or April, they reproduce and begin to grow a few centimeters a day. (Giant kelp grows several inches a day.) Each fall, the adult sea palm completes its life cycle and dies, leaving behind a new generation of gametophytes.
That’s what Reggie discovered when new sea palms first sprouted in the exhibit on their own.
“It was awesome,” he says. “I was in tears.”
A “geeked out” algae enthusiast
Success fired him up. Reggie frankly admits that he’s completely “geeked out” by rocky shore mysteries.
He next started colonies of other algae from the exposed rocky shore: feather boa kelp that looks like something a dance-hall girl would wear; and tiny Silvetia, Fucus and Endocladia rockweeds. All are growing and reproducing, just as they would in the wild.
Reggie’s also had luck with colonies of gooseneck barnacles, while fending off oystercatchers and other wild shorebirds that want to grab them as snacks. Like the algae, gooseneck barnacles thrive under pounding waves, alternately submerged and exposed to sunlight and air.
Location, location, location – and love
“It’s all about location,” Reggie says.
Location – and tender loving care. He makes sure there’s plenty of raw seawater running through the exhibit, so the algae get the nutrients they need. He drops the water level in the exhibit for two hours each morning so they’re left high and dry. And he’s arranged to have the waves crash 24/7 so his finicky charges are battered day and night.
Reggie’s been part of the Husbandry team for 25 years since we recruited him from the California Conservation Corps. After working in the food room and in every exhibit gallery, he now has special permission to focus on Rocky Shore exhibits, bringing what he sees in the wild to our visitors.
“When you’ve been here for 25 years, and you’re still excited to come in every day – that’s the best!” Reggie says.
For Earth Day: A Greener Wristband
We want families to have peace of mind when they visit the Aquarium. That’s why, since 2012, we’ve handed out disposable wristbands for younger children to wear. Parents write their cell phone number on the wristband, so if youngsters are separated from their parents, it’s easy to reunite them.
The only drawback? All the wristbands on the market were made from plastic that can’t be recycled or composted. Our Guest Experience team KNEW there had to be a greener way to go. But there were no better options.
“I was amazed that none of the manufacturers had explored the possibility of developing a wristband that was environmentally friendly,” says Tom Uretsky, our director of security.
Persistence pays off
Tom approached one of the leading manufacturers – MedTech Wristbands – when he saw them advertising a biodegradable product. Unfortunately, it was still “only a concept”. Even if it existed, he was told, MedTech couldn’t print wristbands in color.
Tom persisted. What if the Aquarium agreed to buy the Earth-friendly wristbands – LOTS of them? Would MedTech invest in the equipment to print custom designs in color?
That got their attention. Within a month, new equipment was in place and the wristbands in production, imprinted with colorful Splash Zone illustrations
First thousands, now millions
“We’ve already gone through our first 5,000, and we have another 10,000 on order,” Tom says. “They cost a bit more, but they’re completely in sync with our mission to inspire conservation of the oceans, and to promote green business practices.”
More importantly, says Matt Wright, senior account executive with MedTech, biodegradable wristbands like “Genesis” are quickly catching on with other businesses. The company has gone from a single client – Monterey Bay Aquarium – to hundreds of clients who have collectively placed total orders for millions of the new-generation wristbands. In addition to being biodegradable, MedTech’s “Genesis” is also “litter free”, a feature that’s attractive to green businesses that want to keeping their grounds clean and free of debris.
“We’re delighted that we’re helping shift the market in an eco-friendly direction,” Matt says. “Were so grateful that the Monterey Bay Aquarium spurred us on.
"It’s definitely an idea whose time has come.”
Killer sponges! Sounds like creatures from a B-grade horror movie, doesn’t it? In fact, they thrive in the lightless depths of the deep sea. Learn more about the latest finds from our sister organization, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).
Update: Apparently the dad changed his mind, and is no longer brooding the two young ones. The good news: we have taken them back in for care, as we have done many times before, and the prognosis for successful re-release is excellent!
We recently re-united to snowy plover chicks with their father on a nearby beach. The tagged chicks were mistakenly picked up by beachgoers who thought they were abandoned, and brought to the Aquarium for care. The adult plover still had one chick with him, and representatives of California State Parks and Point Blue put a small cage over the chick to keep the parent close by until we could arrive with the other two. We then placed all three chicks in the enclosure to give the dad a chance to see them. After ensuring that the male was interested in the chicks, we removed the cage and he began caring for all three once again. Success!
Once numbering in the thousands, U.S. Pacific coast western snowy plovers were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1993. Today it’s estimated that only about 2,100 plovers breed along the coast, with the largest number found from south San Francisco Bay to southern Baja California. You can help keep adult plovers from abandoning their nests. Keep your dog on a leash on beaches during snowy plover breeding season and stay out of areas that have been blocked off as bird nesting sights.
Did you know that sunken logs can create new worlds for seafloor animals? Recent deep-sea research by our sister organization, The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, shows that even bits of waterlogged dead wood can support thriving communities of animals, where wood-boring clams serve as “ecosystem engineers.”
Help keep an otter happy! It’s not too late for California residents to “check the box” on state tax forms to help save sea otters. The fund supports researchers and partners trying to understand the issues facing the threatened southern sea otter—and help the population recover.
Coming in Like a Lion(fish)
March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb as stormy winter weather gives way to a milder spring. Now April is coming in like a lion, too – with the latest addition to our Splash Zone galleries.
The new arrival – the captivating and beautiful lionfish – isn’t just another pretty face. It’s an infamous fish that carries an important conservation message.
Far from Home
Native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, lionfish are fabulous residents of their home waters. Unfortunately, they were introduced to waters off the U.S. east coast in the mid-1980s and are now a destructive invasive species from the mid-Atlantic through Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and into Central and South America.
Cause for Concern
Their fluttering maroon-and-white-striped dorsal fins hide venomous spines that require our husbandry teams to take extra precautions around them. Yet the bigger concern is the threat these fish pose to ecosystems in waters where they don’t belong.
Invasive lionfish have no natural predators outside their home waters, and they compete with native fish for both food and habitat. Lionfish have a hearty appetite for commercially and ecologically important native fish species, and are able to thrive in waters from the shoreline to depths of more than 400 feet. In warmer waters, females are capable of spawning 30,000 eggs every four days, making them prolific breeders and poster fish for invasive species.
The Edible Invader
Our exhibit lionfish were collected from the Florida Keys, where the species has taken a foot – or rather fin – hold since 2009. Absent other lionfish predators, people have adopted the mantra “Eat ‘em to beat ‘em” to encourage consumption of these marine invaders. (They are as tasty as they are beautiful.)
Got questions? We’ve got answers—from animal names to conservation issues. Check out our latest podcast!
Boater Alert: Go Slow Around Sea Otters
With the start of California’s recreational salmon season only days away, we remind boaters to keep an eye out for sea otters and go slow in waters where otters hang out. By observing no-wake laws and being extra vigilant near harbors and kelp beds, boaters can do their part to prevent accidental boat strikes that kill and injure sea otters.
Go Slow In The Slough
The Aquarium, along with Moss Landing Harbor District, Friends of the Sea Otter and other local organizations, ask boaters heading out from Moss Landing Harbor and Elkhorn Slough to protect the resident population of sea otters. Otters in the harbor and slough form part of a research population that biologists have studied for years. Data from ongoing research studies could be important to the survival of this threatened species.
In the past decade, boat strikes have contributed to the deaths of 35 sea otters in California – many in coastal waters between Moss Landing and Santa Cruz. Most boat strike deaths occur in April and May, coinciding with increased boating activity and possibly the openings of salmon (April) and rockfish (May) seasons.
Every Otter Matters
Sea otters face a number of complicated threats to their recovery including disease, pollution and food availability, but deaths from boat strikes are easily preventable when boaters are attentive and maintain slower speeds.
Recreational salmon season opens Saturday, April 5, and runs until April 30. As in past years, volunteers with the Aquarium, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and other organizations will be out for opening weekend, talking with anglers before they launch and caution everyone to slow down.