The health of the ocean and humanity are inextricably linked. Nearly half of the world's human population lives within 50 miles of a coast, and all of us depend on the ocean and the oxygen, water, climate regulation, food and other resources it provides for our survival. The ocean also provides opportunities for recreation, transportation, medicine and economic prosperity that allow us thrive.
The mission of the National Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures; we exist to change the way humanity cares for our ocean planet. We’re committed to focusing on the “triple bottom line,” which means that our work is successful when it benefits people and the planet, while also resulting in economic growth. Examples of these efforts include advocating for responsible aquaculture, protecting areas on land and in water, rescuing and rehabilitating marine animals, implementing sustainable business practices and more.
Humans depend on the ocean to survive and thrive, and responsible aquaculture is an important sector within a healthy ocean economy.
The ocean supports all life on our planet, and while there is an increasing understanding that human health and food security depend on marine resources, we can do more to build this knowledge. The ocean is crucially important to the economy, supporting marine transportation, energy generation, tourism, fisheries, aquaculture and other industries.
The farming of fish, shellfish and sea vegetables—otherwise known as aquaculture—is a key part of the ocean economy, and provides an opportunity for economic growth. Responsible aquaculture represents a secure and reliable protein supply for a burgeoning population that reduces environmental strain on our ocean while enhancing our maritime economies, creating jobs and protecting wild fisheries and ocean habitats. The National Aquarium is educating consumers that responsibly farmed fish, shellfish and sea vegetables benefit both the planet and people.
Most marine debris is plastic that comes from land.
Experts estimate there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our ocean, with millions of tons entering the ocean from land each year. It’s estimated that Americans use (and throw away) about 500 million plastic straws each day, and 100 billion plastic bags each year. Disposable plastic items easily wash or blow into the ocean, where they can have devastating effects on marine animals and ecosystems. Plastic pollution also affects human health—humans are ingesting the plastic that has found its way into our food web, and the production of plastic releases toxins into our atmosphere that have negative impacts on our health. We also have a financial interest in reducing plastic pollution, since the cost of waste management and litter cleanup largely comes from our tax dollars. Recycling helps, but reducing the use of plastic is a critical first step in keeping it out of the ocean.
Alongside the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Shedd Aquarium, the National Aquarium is spearheading the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP), which connects 19 aquariums from across the United States to bring an allied voice to ocean conservation issues. In July 2017, the ACP launched a plastic pollution education campaign to empower the participating aquariums’ 20 million visitors and millions more in their communities to shift away from single-use plastics and adopt innovative alternatives. To ensure that our own operations are authentic to our mission, the National Aquarium has a goal of eliminating all single-use plastics in our buildings. Our gift shops do not offer plastic bags, we removed disposable plastic foodware from our cafes, and we continue to phase out single-use plastics from our other operations. With the installation of water bottle filling stations and removal of single-use plastics from our cafes, we estimate that at least 300,000 water and soft drink bottles have been removed from the waste stream each year.
Wildlife diversity is essential to healthy ecosystems.
People need healthy ecosystems to protect our coasts and communities, clean the air we breathe and support a diversity of wildlife and plants. When species become endangered or go extinct, it can disrupt the delicate balance of healthy ecosystems and the economies that depend on those ecosystems. Consider sharks, for example—the overfishing of sharks has led to declining populations, and since sharks are at the top of the food chain, a disruption in their population disrupts the fish and other animals included in that food chain. That disruption can have devastating effects on fisheries that humans depend on financially.
For 25 years, the National Aquarium has rescued and rehabilitated endangered and protected species, including sea turtles, seals, a manatee and even a pygmy sperm whale. We wholeheartedly support the Endangered Species Act, which has been a crucial part of the progress our country has made in saving species on the brink of extinction.