Tuesday, September 16, 2008
As you might imagine, since I am a volunteer at the Aquarium of the Pacific, I love animals. I’ve mentioned several times in past blogs that I have a passion for being green to help protect our environment and, as a result, ourselves. That’s why, when our Green Team leader Catherine and Barbara, an Aquarium vice president on the Green Team, organized a trip for us to visit the Santa Barbara Zoo, I jumped at the chance to go to learn about the green initiatives being implemented there.
Bright and early on a recent Friday, eight of us climbed into one of the Aquarium’s vans that operate on natural gas for the trip up north. It was 6:30 a.m. YAWN! The reason for the early hour was because we wanted to beat rush hour traffic. We wanted to be sure to be on time for an 11:00 a.m. appointment with Chris, the zoo’s chief of security, who also heads up the organization’s green initiatives.
Even with a 30-minute-or-so rest stop halfway up the road, in Thousand Oaks, we made it to the zoo in two hours, having found very little traffic. We arrived about 20 minutes before the 10:00 a.m. opening. Catherine notified Chris that we had arrived, and he arranged for us to go in when they opened to do a little wandering around the zoo before our meeting, something that all of us appreciated greatly, since we all love animals.
At 11:00 a.m., we met Chris, who told us about how the zoo’s administrators, like those here at the Aquarium, are committed to being green in every way possible (saving energy, the environment, and the bottom line) to help with conservation efforts in all operations. For example, in the food service areas at both the zoo and at the Aquarium, biodegradable cutlery, plates, and cups are the norm, even though they are more expensive than their non-green alternatives. The cutlery is made out of corn resins, and the cold-drink cups are crafted out of sugar cane. Amazing, isn’t it, that we can make such implements out of edible materials? I love it! In addition, at the Aquarium, not only do we offer biodegradable plates, but we also offer an option of washable/re-usable trays for our staff in the staff cafeteria, or Staffeteria, as we like to call it.
The zoo, of course, has some needs that we do not have, so some of what they do is not applicable to us. These green practices at the zoo include using traps baited with pheromones to keep flies off the lions and other animals and they have catch basins around the perimeter of their property bordering a bird refuge in order to keep runoff from harming our wild avian friends. This practice is green because it uses all natural products instead of using pesticides.
The zoo composts all food scraps from its food service operations and green waste also is composted, but in both cases this is possible only because the City of Santa Barbara started a pilot composting program not too long ago. The Zoo is one of five businesses in the city that are involved in this program at the present time. At the Aquarium, the composting bug has hit, too. Barbara told me that soon we will begin composting waste from our food operations—our pilot composter has just arrived! Composting our food scraps will be wonderful both in terms of producing less trash for the landfill and also because it is a good soil amendment that will benefit plants throughout the Aquarium. Unlike the zoo, we will be composting those food scraps ourselves, since the city of Long Beach does not have a composting program of any kind right now, although I’m hopeful that it will in the future.
Santa Barbara also made it possible for the zoo’s vegetation to be watered and its toilets flushed with reclaimed water, thus saving a great deal of this precious resource that is becoming quite scarce in Southern California. Because of the tremendous cost of putting in reclaimed-water systems, the Aquarium, for now, has to do without reclaimed water. Here in Long Beach we conserve water in other ways. For example, the Aquarium has waterless urinals in all the men’s restrooms, saving about 40,000 gallons of potable water a year—these urinals use a chemical cartridge that is located at the base of each urinal, thus blocking odors from entering the air and eliminating a “U” shaped pipe that requires water to operate properly. Also, all the toilets in the both our women’s and men’s restrooms are equipped with low-flush handles that save water by using less of it for a flush for liquid waste (pulling up on the flush lever) and more for solid waste (pushing down on the flush lever). I’m not sure how much water this saves, but it does save enough to help us conserve. I mentioned these water-saving methods, and other green operations of the Aquarium in my blog about a behind the scenes “greening the institution” tour that we gave a while back, so click here if you want to learn more.
Since our opening in 1998, the Aquarium has risen to a premier, world-class institution of free-choice learning, bringing first-rate environmental education programs that both inform and inspire our visitors. To sustain our daily operations, however, we must consume many resources for our 12,500 animal ambassadors and the millions of visitors that visit with us to learn about the ocean and humanity’s relationships with the natural world. This is why in 2002 the Aquarium commissioned an independent analysis of our operations in order to create a baseline for resource use, with the goal to have zero increase in energy and water consumption even as our facility expands and the attendance increases. Since then, the Aquarium has continued to meet this goal every year, even though our attendance has increased by 35 percent since 2002. In 2007, we even reduced our energy use by 5 percent, though our water use has remained constant. These accomplishments were achieved by placing an emphasis on greening our operations, increasing efficiency, and optimizing equipment performance in order to minimize our resource use. All this is to benefit the environement while maintaining high standards for our staff, guests, and the Long Beach community.
We also use sustainable resources throughout the Aquarium, sometimes in the most unexpected places. Imagine picnic tables made from plastic bottle caps in the area where our school groups gather to eat lunch or our ‘wood’ cabinets that actually are made from recycled plastic and other sustainable materials; we are using recycled material in order to reduce the environmental impact of our operation. The new uniform shirts that we started wearing in conjunction with our 10th anniversary in June are made of organic cotton that is more expensive than shirts made of non-organic cotton or synthetic materials, but they are far more environmentally friendly. As a side note, our old uniform shirts all have been recycled into rags, so nothing got wasted or wound up in the trash dump.
Like the zoo, which is taking part in conservation efforts for California’s condors and for the Channel Island fox, both of whose populations are in danger, the Aquarium is helping replenish kelp forests in local waters as part of an exciting conservation project that involves high school students and volunteer divers. Kelp forests are a very important part of the marine environment as a rich habitat for many of our ocean friends, both fish and mammals. Between 2003 and 2006, kelp forests from Corona del Mar to Imperial Beach shrank by more than three-quarters as red tides blocked out sunlight needed for photosynthesis, but since then, their total size has doubled. Kelp forests shrink in part because their holdfasts, which attach them to the ocean floor, are eaten away by sea urchins, whose natural predators, including sea otters, lobsters and California sheephead, have declined. All these predators live in and around kelp forests, the loss of which result in losses of habitat for these and other creatures. As part of the kelp project, students in a biology classroom at an Orange County high school grow kelp spores 400 times smaller than anything the human eye can see, cultivating them until they become the 1/4-inch-tall juveniles that Aquarium volunteer divers “plant” along the ocean floor.
Another way the Aquarium is continuing to be more green involves a new building that will open November 15 and that will, among other things, educate the public about how everything that hits the ground—even in the mountains, winds up flowing into the ocean at some point, possibly harming the resident animals and/or the environment in which they live. Specifically, the exhibit component of the Watershed Classroom looks at the changing relationships between the people of the San Pedro Bay drainage basin and their environment. A big part of the excitement about this building not only is the conservation education that it will provide, but also this expansion is an important part of our goals for sustainable design. The Watershed Classroom aims to be the first LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum-certified building in Long Beach and is among the first in the national museum, zoo, and aquarium community. Platinum is the highest possible green building rating by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). The classroom and the building’s surrounding landscape were designed to minimize environmental impact, both during construction and throughout its life span. Following the USGBC’s standards, this is a carbon-neutral building whose planning took into account the environmental impact of site choices, energy choices, green materials, water conservation, and design innovation.
So, with my passion for green, you can see why I’m proud to be a volunteer here at the Aquarium. Stay tuned for a future blog closer to the opening of the new Watershed Classroom and Exhibit, when I can explain more about just how green it is, and hopefully I’ll have some pictures for you as well.
For now, I’ll say so long and TANKS (pun intended) to all of you who do your part in helping protect our planet. For those of you who haven’t started yet, WHY NOT? =)
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