2022 Recap: Conservation Wins

When it comes to the National Aquarium's conservation priorities—combating climate change, saving wildlife and habitats, and stopping plastic pollution—what did we accomplish this year?

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Conservation is at the heart of the National Aquarium's mission. Every day, we connect people with nature to drive conservation action. Three overarching goals guide our work—to combat climate change, save wildlife and habitats, and stop plastic pollution. Looking back at 2022, there's progress to celebrate in each of these areas.

Combating Climate Change

In April, the Aquarium announced that we will achieve net-zero emissions by 2035—a major milestone in our commitment to combat climate change. Net-zero refers to effectively eliminating an individual's or business's greenhouse gas emissions with limited use of carbon offsets. While the Aquarium already helps remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through activities such as planting trees at Nassawango Creek Preserve, this commitment focuses on reducing our overall energy use, increasing efficiency and using energy with the lowest emissions possible. As a symbol of this commitment, the Aquarium and long-standing corporate partner Constellation installed a solar tree on Pier 4 of the Inner Harbor in July.

We also worked with local partner organizations to support legislation to achieve net-zero emissions at the local and state level. Thanks in part to those efforts, the Baltimore City Council and Mayor Brandon Scott passed legislation requiring city government operations to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045, and the state passed sweeping legislation that committed Maryland to the most ambitious greenhouse gas reductions of any state in the nation. At the federal level, the Aquarium Conservation Partnership and many others have advocated for investments in climate action and environmental justice for several years. In August, Congress passed the most significant climate law in the nation's history. Climate-related investments included in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 will provide close to $370 billion in funding to combat climate change.

While large-scale changes happen through public policy, actions by individuals are incredibly important when it comes to combating climate change. Aquarium staff trained as climate interpreters by the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) have positive, civic-minded, solutions-focused, one-on-one conversations about climate change with our guests. Through early December, our team had logged almost 50,000 discussions about climate change with Aquarium visitors.

Saving Wildlife and Habitats

This year, the Aquarium played a leadership role in creating and introducing the bipartisan Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act. There's a pressing need to generate a sustained source of federal funding to support National Aquarium Animal Rescue and the dozens of other organizations around the country that rescue and rehabilitate endangered sea turtles. Thanks to the leadership of U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, several members of Congress have already endorsed calls for funding sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation in the federal budget.

As part of our work to reintroduce habitat that existed in the Inner Harbor when it was a tidal salt marsh, the Aquarium's 400-square-foot floating wetland prototype installed in 2017 continues to be a haven for wildlife. This year, the team built on previous years' water quality and species biodiversity data, while figuring out how to scale up the wetland to cover up to 10,000 square feet. In May, in a different area of the harbor, the Aquarium collaborated with Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore to re-create basking habitat for aquatic turtles.

We also joined more than 40 leading zoos and aquariums from across the country to successfully encourage the U.S. to support added protections for more than 50 species of sharks and guitarfish under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Other 2022 wins for wildlife included making the newly installed glass on the Upland Tropical Rain Forest pyramid safer for migrating birds; planting more than 41,200 grasses during annual planting events at Nassawango Creek Preserve, Virginia Beach and Baltimore County's Chesterwood Park; working with lawmakers to pass legislation that promotes native plants in Maryland and will reduce the harmful impact of invasive plants; partnering with Garden for Wildlife to certify wildlife habitat gardens in our state; and launching a larval fish rearing program to help protect wild populations.

We also continued to engage people in documenting biodiversity in Baltimore through annual events like the City Nature Challenge and BioBlitz at Masonville Cove. Our Guest Engagement team had hundreds of thousands of one-on-one conversations with Aquarium guests about wildlife and their habitats.

Stopping Plastic Pollution

To remove plastic pollution from waterways and wetlands, the Aquarium held cleanups at Masonville Cove, the Fort McHenry wetland and Cox's Point Park, and coordinated Ocean Conservancy International Coastal Cleanup events across the state of Maryland. In total this year, Aquarium volunteers collected approximately 65,400 pieces of debris at these events, most of it plastic.

To stop plastic pollution at its source, before it can enter the environment, we also focus on education and reduction. Every July, Aquarium employees and volunteers participate in the Plastic Free Ecochallenge, a month-long initiative to spur people to eliminate single-use plastics in their daily lives. This year, we opened the National Aquarium's Plastic Free Ecochallenge team to anyone who wanted to join. A total of 237 people answered the call and represented the Aquarium in the challenge.

The Aquarium also joined more than 400 organizations and businesses calling for the elimination of plastics from national parks across the country. After more than a year of advocacy, the Biden-Harris Administration announced in June that by 2032, the Department of Interior will phase out the procurement, sale and distribution of single-use plastic products and packaging on the lands, waters, resources and ecosystems it manages. This encompasses more than 480 million acres of public lands visited by hundreds of millions of people each year.

In another major step forward, the U.S. is taking part in negotiations toward a global treaty on plastics. The National Aquarium is one of more than 700 groups from over 100 countries calling for a legally binding global treaty to prevent and remediate plastic pollution and its toxic impacts.

Our team also discusses plastic pollution with guests, logging more than 82,000 conversations about plastic through early December.

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