Aquariums across the country are fighting plastic pollution

Aquariums across the country are...

MONTEREY, Calif. - UPDATE 7/10/2017 5:50 p.m.:

The Monterey Bay Aquarium calls it one of the gravest threats facing ocean and freshwater wildlife -- Plastic pollution. The problem is sparking a nationwide campaign among 19 aquariums to remove single use plastic products and packaging from its facilities.

"As of yesterday, we can say we are 100-percent plastic-free for any type of packaging here in the café and restaurant," said Lura Migdal, culinary general manager of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

On Monday, aquarium staff showed KION some of the changes it has made. In the restaurant area, plastic straws have been replaced with paper ones, refillable water bottles and hard plastic cups replaced disposable to-go cups. There is also an open cooler for beverages that is 100-percent plastic free, holding beverages that are free of plastic seals.

More changes are happening behind the scenes.

"All of our produce now comes in reusable bins so we have no more cardboard, no more plastic wrapping, those individual vegetables," Migdal said.

Meanwhile in the gift shop, changes that shoppers may not readily recognize. Single use bags have been phased out for a while, replaced with reusable ones. However, the aquarium has been working with major vendors to change packaging in more than two dozen products, from how puzzles are sealed to how they are fastened into a container.

"The best way to start out is to not have it at all, and if there's a way to package it, if there's a way to present it, minus those items, then you're that much farther ahead of the game," said Andrew Fischer, general manager of merchandising for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

According to the aquarium officials, nearly 8.8 million pounds of plastic makes its way into the ocean every year. The equivalent would be a dump truck dumping plastic into the water every minutes of every day. There are also concerns with plastic pollution in lakes and rivers, with an estimated one billion plastic particles floating on the surface of Lake Michigan alone. They say the problem with plastic is once it is created, it never goes away.

With some 20 million people going to these 19 aquariums every year, the hope is once visitors make that connection, it will help them rethink their shopping habits.

"People trust us on ocean issues,” said Ken Peterson, communications director for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “They love marine life that they see here. They often don't know that marine life is at risk with single use plastic and they don't know that they can do something about it, so that's what our campaign is focused on."

In a story that went viral, Peterson recalled one instance where a plastic straw hurt a sea turtle.

"The one that really galvanized a lot of the action around plastic straws was a sea turtle that was rescued with a straw completely up its nose and its nasal cavity," Peterson said. “The rescuers had to do a surgical procedure to get the straw out. Who would think, a plastic straw?”

The aquariums have also committed to reducing plastic beverage bottles by December 2020, though the Monterey Bay Aquarium has already done that, replacing disposable cups with reusable ones.

The other partner aquariums helping to rid plastic in its facilities are:

California: Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach; California Academy of Sciences/Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco; and Monterey Bay Aquarium
Connecticut: Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut
Florida: The Florida Aquarium in Tampa
Illinois: Shedd Aquarium in Chicago
Kentucky: Newport Aquarium in Kentucky
Louisiana: Audubon Nature Institute/Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans
Maryland: National Aquarium
Massachusetts: New England Aquarium in Boston
Nebraska: Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Nebraska
New York: Wildlife Conservation Society/New York Aquarium in New York City
North Carolina: North Carolina Aquariums
South Carolina: South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston
Tennessee: Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga
Texas: Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi
Virginia: Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach; and
Washington: Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma; and Seattle Aquarium


On Monday, the Monterey Bay Aquarium along with 18 others announced the creation of Aquarium Conservation Partnership, which aims to move away from single-use plastic materials at their facilities. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, nearly 9 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year.

As of today, all ACP members have stopped using plastic straws and single-use plastic bags. As part of the ACP, by December 2020, members hope to reduce or even eliminate plastic beverage bottles.

"As leaders in aquatic conservation, aquariums are expected to walk their talk, and that's exactly what this partnership is meant to do," said National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli. "We are uniquely qualified to set an example for others-in reducing our plastic footprint, encouraging sustainable operating practices, and inspiring hope in a public that is hungry to be part of the solution. We're right where we should be." 

Other aquariums who are now part of the ACP include:

California: Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach; California Academy of Sciences/Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco; and Monterey Bay Aquarium
Connecticut: Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut
Florida: The Florida Aquarium in Tampa
Illinois: Shedd Aquarium in Chicago

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