Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Among the many hats that I wear at the Aquarium of the Pacific, is one that I don’t think I’ve mentioned before, and that is that I am secretary for the Marine Conservation Research Institute, which we lovingly refer to as MCRI. I really enjoy the people and meetings, which I find quite interesting and educational.
Governed by a board of scientists, business leaders, and others interested in helping guide MCRI and the Aquarium, the group focuses on research involving various aspects of the marine environment. Among the members are some fellow Aquarium volunteers who also are involved in scientific and/or research endeavors.
The mission of MCRI is to expand and enhance the body of scientific knowledge relating to the Pacific Ocean, its inhabitants, and ecosystems and to conserve this valuable resource for future generations through research, conservation, and education focused around the Aquarium.
What’s great is that these dedicated people help connect the scientific community and the public by providing all sorts of interesting and worthwhile information about ocean-related issues and research, including overviews of the most important conservation topics as these relate to the ocean.
Among the ocean conservation topics, about which you can find more information by clicking here, are biodiversity, global climate change and how this affects the ocean, and ocean ecosystems and habitats. Research topics (click here for more information) include the propagation of at-risk species, how pheromones are used by Crested Auklets (Aethia cristatella), several of which we have in our diving bird exhibit at the Aquarium, and marine biotoxin monitoring for the California Department of Health Services, to name a few.
The Board meets on a quarterly basis, with these wonderful people taking time out of their incredibly busy schedules to try to make a difference by helping promote the importance of our ocean in the lives of all people.
At a recent meeting, Barbara, one of our vice presidents, talked about the new Watershed Classroom and Exhibit that opens officially on Saturday; I will discuss that more in detail in a future blog.
What I will tell you now is that one of the most exciting things about the classroom is that it was constructed with a minimal carbon footprint and will operate as a “carbon neutral” structure. That means that we won’t be using any fossil fuels to run the place, Very nice, isn’t it?
Barbara explained that the classroom is 1,240 square feet (including a storeroom) and is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum room that is one of the first such non-governmental and the fourth LEED Platinum buildings in Southern California, and the first in Long Beach. LEED Platinum is the highest level one can reach in this sort of building construction and usage.
During the meeting, Jerry, the Aquarium’s president and chief executive officer, updated everyone on the Aquarium-sponsored “Offshore Aquaculture Conference” that was held a while back. Aquaculture, in essence, is a way to “farm” sustainable fish for consumption rather than taking them from wild populations.
Two government officials and other interested scientists, aquaculturists and environmentalists attended the forum, exploring the possibility of an aquaculture operation off the coast of California. By the end of the forum, Jerry said, even the most skeptical participants were convinced that the time has arrived for a carefully planned and monitored aquaculture demonstration project off southern California.
Those gathered at the conference looked at such things as the environmental effects of aquaculture, seafood supply and demand, and other potential issues to try to determine whether an aquaculture operation off our coast is a threat or is something that can be maintained at a manageable level. Such an operation here would be regulated primarily by the U.S. Department of Fish and Game, with some control also by the California Coastal Commission here in California.
As soon as a summary report of the forum is available, Jerry said it will be shared with officials from the Federal and California State governments as well as with those present at the event, and it also will be posted online for viewing by the public.
Apparently, California has the right ocean environment for aquaculture, and a large market for seafood exists in the state, which has about 80 percent of its seafood imported from other areas. By conducting aquaculture operations off the coast, some wild stocks and their infrastructures can be conserved, but such an endeavor is viable only if it does not degrade the ocean environment.
Jerry also mentioned that as a result of an Aquarium-sponsored Sustainable Seafood Forum that was held a few months ago, we have been invited to create a restaurant program in Southern California that eventually can be extended to wholesalers and retailers, provided that funding becomes available.
(For more on sustainable seafood, check my blog on that topic by clicking here.)
He also updated the Board on a new “Ocean Today Kiosk” that we now have at the Aquarium in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution. The kiosk was made available in part thanks to Panasonic Corporation, which provided the hardware (two large plasma screens).
I was “playing” with that kiosk just the other day, and find it very interesting. It has a touch screen that you use to get to the topics about which you want to learn more, and what is shown on that touch screen is also displayed on a larger screen that makes it easy for more people to view than just the person doing the screen touching.
The Smithsonian provided the software that tells the big story of the ocean in an interactive exhibit, duplicates of which can be found in other locations throughout the country. This project involves a network—known as the Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers Network—of 22 leading aquaria and learning centers throughout the United States and one in Mexico.
As a part of that project, the Smithsonian held an art contest in which young people from kindergarten through college age participated, with winners in various age categories being selected by region. The artwork of winners from each regional contest was sent to the Smithsonian for further judging, and of those drawings selected as national winners by Smithsonian judges, eight of them came from the Aquarium’s entries!
The drawings are exceptional, as is evident by walking along the Aquarium’s upstairs area between the Northern Pacific and Gulf of California galleries, where the artwork from our region is displayed. I highly recommend taking a peek at them the next time you’re in, because you’re in for quite a treat!
Later in the MCRI meeting, Perry, who heads up the Aquarium’s husbandry program, updated those present and two Board members attending the meeting by telephone on an abalone project that we started in July as part of a 24-month initiative created to improve the Aquarium’s cultivation and rearing techniques of captive red abalone (Haliotis rufescens). Included would be designing an educational exhibit and activities for our guests in order to illustrate the historical and ecological significance of abalone.
As part of the project, we hope to build and maintain a closed system for abalone, with this system holding between 12 to 15 abalone broodstock. The Department of Fish and Game will be involved in making sure that the system is built and maintained properly, and Perry said he hopes that eventually the tanks could be used for future research on the endangered white abalone (Haliotis sorenseni).
A few of our staff members already have researched various aspects of building and maintaining such a system, but they presently have limited expertise in running a closed system, so they will start by working with the red abalone and, eventually, once their experience increases, will also start working with white abalone.
Members of the MCRI Board also discussed various projects in which they are involved, including an underwater archeology program that hopefully will be underway soon to study the many inter-tidal shipwrecks are available off our coast.
The Kelp Restoration Project in which we take part involves restoring the kelp forests in the waters off Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, where park officials recently renovated beach cottages that they rented for the summer, keeping one for use as a rotating display.
Thanks to Nancy, the project’s director, and a friend of hers who is a graphic artist, we were able to use this cottage to explain the program and the importance of kelp forests, which are a rich ecosystem full of ocean creatures. What’s great is that the displays that Nancy and her friend put up were in the cottage were displayed throughout the summer, which is the park’s busiest time; an estimated 36,000 people saw it, and it didn’t cost the Aquarium a dime!
In addition to some of our own volunteer divers (including a member of the MCRI board), who plant the kelp on the ocean floor, the project involves high school students who cultivate these ocean plants until they are large enough to be transported and transplanted into the ocean.
All-in-all, I must say that I enjoy being a part of MCRI, and if you’d like to learn more about the Board and its work, click here.
Have Something to Say? Leave a Comment!
All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.