Can gangly pink flamingos and a burping cow help turn the tide for ocean wildlife threatened by global climate change?
That’s the hope –- and inspiration –- behind the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s new special exhibition, Hot Pink Flamingos: Stories of Hope in a Changing Sea.
With disarming humor, a hopeful tone and compelling animals, the aquarium is trying to jump-start a conversation about a contentious topic whose impacts affect not only ocean animals but people. It's getting attention (quite a bit of it, actually). And it's starting to work.
The starting point, as always, is the animals: Wading birds like flamingos, spoonbills and ibis, whose wetland habitats will be affected by rising seas. A vibrant living coral reef, endangered as carbon pollution alters ocean chemistry in ways that make it more difficult for corals and other animals to grow skeletons. There are jellies that can’t tolerate rising ocean temperatures, and sea turtles whose newborns will all be girls, because their sex is determined by the temperature of the beach-sand nests where their eggs incubate. And Magellanic penguins that must swim farther offshore seeking fish that can no longer find their own food in familiar coastal waters.
Next add the humor. A cheery young woman talks with visitors from inside a washing machine (cold-water washes save energy -– and money), a frying pan (one vegetarian meal a week for each American would amount to taking 20 million cars off the road) and a refrigerator (high-carbon pineapple from Hawaii, or low-carbon apple from the orchard next door?).
There are opportunities to "Elf Yourself" into a video displaying simple low-carbon conservation actions, from riding a bike more often to keeping car tires inflated for better mileage.
There are places for people to share their feelings and stories: How their faith calls them to stewardship of the planet, what they can do in their community, even an opportunity to ask their senators to support legislation that addresses global climate change.
And there are examples of what others are doing: College students who voted to pay a yearly fee to green their campus, then pick the project on which to spend the money. Cities from Bogota, Colombia to Ann Arbor, Michigan that are cutting their carbon pollution in simple ways. A Catholic church in Carmel, California where parishioners can pick up local, organic produce after Mass.
It’s all about starting the conversation around a difficult topic. It seems to be working. Visitors are talking -- and not just about the animals.