Living and Learning

How can aquariums encourage ocean conservation?
Answered by Julie Packard
  • Julie Packard

    Julie Packard

  1. Julie Packard Executive Director, Monterey Bay Aquarium


    I think the role of aquariums has traditionally been an educational role. They've traditionally not -- some of them – well, most of them now embrace conservation in their mission statement. Twenty-five years ago, that wasn't the case. So then the question is: Conservation is our mission. What are we doing about it?

    I think there's a range among members of the aquarium community. Some -- all of them are doing what you call environmental education, teaching young people about not only the science but also the environmental issues and the threats associated with ocean animals and ocean wildlife, so that's really positive.

    A few of us have started to take the next step in engaging the public with things that they can do. Those obviously are in a couple of domains. One is just your personal choice. Think about how your personal choices affect the ocean, your seafood choices.

    Another great issue is marine debris, all the plastics in our ocean. All that plastic originates on land. It's all the stuff that we buy. Every day what happens with it and how can we not only use less plastic and try to drive the demand down, but more importantly -- because, face it, a few million people using fewer plastic bags are not necessarily going to change the global plastics trajectory -- the more important thing is the awareness, the public awareness that goes along with that and then us engaging the public with demanding change through advocacy work. That's really kind of the Seafood Watch model, and it can be applied to other issues, as well.

    Taking that further, though, some of the U.S. aquariums, and we've kind of led this effort, also are engaging our constituents, our public who are interested, in weighing in on actual policy change, on legislative proposals that are relevant to the animals they've experienced at our institutions and fallen in love with. We've taught them about the threats. Before they leave, they're primed to -- it's on top of mind, what can I do? We're more and more giving them opportunities right here in the aquarium to weigh in.

    An example would be here in California we passed a very progressive state law to set up a network of marine protected areas in state waters. It was a very controversial project, and it needed a lot of public support. During the designation process, we had an opportunity right here in the aquarium where people could send an e-mail right to the governor about their support for the marine protected area designations in southern California.

    We linked that with our seahorses exhibit, because here in California we have our very own seahorse species, and we thought, "Great, people love seahorses. Here's what you can do for seahorses, right now, before you leave the aquarium."

    I think there is a very powerful role, and a lot of our colleagues are getting more and more involved in that role of inviting the public -- we're not -- people aren't coming in our door because we're an advocacy NGO. Not everyone wants to engage in that way, but we want to move people along that path toward engagement and engaging in whatever way they feel.

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