The crusade against marine plastics continues with a new initiative driven by nineteen aquariums across the US. Launched today, the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) seeks to drive a shift away from single-use plastic and toward more sustainable alternatives.
As its first order of business, the Partnership has rolled out a new nationwide consumer campaign, "In Our Hands," to empower their 20 million visitors and millions more in their communities to make positive behavior changes and raise awareness around how plastic pollution threatens ocean and freshwater animals.
“The public trusts aquariums to do what’s right for the health of the ocean and for ocean wildlife,” said Julie Packard, Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “We’re just beginning to understand the full impacts of ocean plastic pollution on ecosystems, marine life and human health. But we already know enough to say that now is the time to act.”
The ACP’s plastics initiative was modeled after the successful implementation of the Seafood Watch program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which leverages consumer choice to influence businesses and their suppliers. It has helped generate rapid adoption of sustainable seafood principles and is changing the way fish are caught and farmed.
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Members of the ACP have eliminated plastic straws and single-use plastic takeaway bags from their operations and have committed to significantly reduce or eliminate plastic beverage bottles by the end of 2020 and showcase alternatives to single-use plastic in their facilities.
Additionally, ACP aquariums have begun working with suppliers and business partners to reduce impacts. Monterey Bay has begun working with toy supplier K&M to change the packaging on 26 items the aquarium sells in its stores, preventing about 9,000 pounds of single-use plastic waste, while the National Aquarium has collaborated with on-site partners Sodexo, Classic Catering People, PepsiCo, Event Network and more to eliminate all disposable water bottles, plastic bags and single-use plastics.
“As leaders in aquatic conservation, aquariums are expected to walk their talk and that’s exactly what this partnership is meant to do,” said John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium. “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.”
The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, National Aquarium in Baltimore and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago were the first to sign onto the ACP, in collaboration with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Coalition partners are located in 16 states and 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
- Florida: The Florida Aquarium in Tampa
- Illinois: Shedd Aquarium in Chicago
- Kentucky: Newport Aquarium
- 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
- 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
Approximately 8.8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean worldwide each year — roughly a dump truck full of plastic every minute every day. If nothing changes, the flow of plastic into the ocean is expected to double by 2025. But it’s not just the ocean that’s affected: Plastic pollution in lakes and rivers has been found at levels as high, if not higher, than in oceanic gyres that concentrate plastic trash. Today, there is an estimated one billion plastic particles floating on the surface of Lake Michigan.
The Great Lakes are the largest surface freshwater system on the Earth, making up approximately 21 percent of the world’s supply of surface freshwater. Additionally, more than 3,500 species of plants and animals live in the Great Lakes basin.
"Approximately 22 million pounds of plastic flows into the Great Lakes each year - in Lake Michigan alone, it is equivalent to 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools filled with bottles," said Dr. Bridget Coughlin, President and CEO of the Shedd Aquarium. "Small actions can turn into big solutions, and we believe the 24 million people in the United States who rely on this beautiful, massive resource for their drinking water, jobs and livelihoods want to be part of that wave of change. We look forward to working together in these commitments.”
This summer, the partners will work to rally support at the local, state and national level for policies that reduce the flow of plastic pollution into the ocean, rivers and lakes. In addition to sponsoring clean-up events and education programs, many have backed successful efforts to restrict the use of plastic shopping and plastic microbeads found in personal care products.
“By using our voice with visitors and in our communities, our collective buying power and our relationships with our vendors, we can make a big difference on a pressing issue that threatens the health of wildlife in the ocean, lakes and rivers,” Packard said. “The solution to plastic pollution is in our hands.”