The news from the Gulf of Mexico remains grim. It’s a sobering reminder of just how precious the ocean is to all of us –- and how vulnerable it can be.
Though there are some signs of progress, I’m very concerned about the fate of ocean wildlife, and of the coastal communities that ring the Gulf. Beyond the depressing images we see daily of oiled birds and other animals, a larger question looms: What will the long-term effects be on the health of the Gulf?
That’s where the efforts of the team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are directed. Long after the gushing well is capped and clean-up teams head home, our Seafood Watch researchers will be assessing what the spill means for commercial fisheries in the Gulf region. We and our scientific partners will be studying the impact of the spill on threatened Atlantic bluefin tunas. Already, our colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute are deploying tools to help federal scientists track the spread of the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
Right now, there’s an urgent need to care for the birds, sea turtles and other wildlife fouled with oil. Our staff members stand ready when called upon to aid our colleagues from wildlife rescue organizations already on the ground, including California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network, of which we’re a part. The International Bird Rescue and Research Center is playing an important role in this unfolding tragedy, too. Both organizations can use your support.
Our Seafood Watch team is monitoring the situation closely, though we have not yet changed our recommendations about fish and shellfish from the Gulf region. The secretary of commerce has declared a fishing disaster and the National Marine Fisheries Service has closed 54,000 square miles of Gulf waters to commercial fishing. (The good news is, at this writing, more than three-quarters of the Gulf remains open.)
The spill will affect many popular commercial species and the people who depend on them for a living: wild shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic; snappers caught in the same waters; wild Eastern oysters; groupers; U.S. farmed oysters; and U.S. farmed shrimp.
If the oil spill changes the abundance or safety of these species, we’ll reflect that in updated seafood reports and Seafood Watch recommendations. Until there is a change, you can support beleaguered fishing communities by continuing to select Best Choices and Good Alternatives when you buy seafood from the Gulf.
One species we’re most concerned about is the threatened Atlantic bluefin tuna. Just months ago, our team pressed hard for stronger international protections for these amazing and valuable fish, but lost the battle. Sadly, the findings from our Tuna Research and Conservation Center –- a collaboration with Stanford University -– document that these incredible fish arrive in the Gulf of Mexico to spawn every year in April and May, and in waters at the heart of the Deepwater Horizon spill. We hope to learn more about how this year’s spawning season was affected. And we’ll continue to monitor the long term health of a species that needs much greater international protection.
To measure the reach of the spill below the surface, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute just dispatched a high-tech robotic submersible that, under the direction of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists, will track the spreading oil plume.
Crisis response and research alone aren’t enough to protect the health of our oceans. This is just the beginning. Tragic as it is, the oil spill provides a case as never before to demand better governance of our oceans and coasts: a national ocean policy, a full commitment to comprehensive ecosystem research before any development occurs, and much stronger safeguards to prevent disaster when things go wrong.
There’s a lot of work ahead of us. And you can help: by staying connected, taking action on issues and supporting our work. I’ll share further thoughts on June 8, when I’ll address legislators and ocean leaders at the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s annual gathering in Washington, DC.
We have an opportunity right now to do the right thing by our oceans. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has helped inspire millions of ocean lovers, and now is our chance to get serious. We’ll be involved, every step of the way, to create a future with healthy oceans.
-- Julie Packard, Executive Director, Monterey Bay Aquarium