Trip to Monterey Bay Aquarium

Over the last few weeks we’ve been talking about the ESA, the effects of each section and what is being done to keep endangered species alive. I’ve always been more partial to marine life, though I’m incredibly afraid of the ocean. So this week I decided to take advantage of my student ID and head down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I signed up for a membership, which is the same price as two visits, and I’ve officially done a small part to help fund the Aquarium and everything they do to educate the public about marine life.

I think what is important about this class is that it gives you the background to really understand why we should appreciate marine life and wild life in general. Once you understand what kind of problems some of these species are dealing with than you can start to really appreciate what you see at the aquarium. The Open Ocean exhibit is a perfect example of that. You see all kind of species: Hamerhead Sharks, Sardines, Sea Turtles and the amazingly creepy Sun fish. Seriously, those things look so strange it almost seems fake. The Open Ocean exhibit gives us the ability to see marine life in action and see how these different species interact with each other. I happened to show up at the exhibit when they were featuring a baby Great White Shark. This was definitely a treat to see the shark swim all around the giant tank and watch the other fish avoid it at all cost. Even at its small size it was a commanding presence in the tank.

I walked around the entire exhibit, though I wasn’t able to study each exhibit as closely as I would have liked. It was crowded as usual. I did try to find the coral reef meter that was talked about during the presentation, but I couldn’t find it for the life of me. The people working there didn’t even know about it. Oh well. I’ll be back for sure, especially for the member nights. It was definitely a great time, I haven’t been there since I was very young, and now with all my environmental knowledge I can definitely appreciate it much more and reinforce why it’s worth protecting.

Here are a few pictures I took and a video of Open Ocean:

Open Ocean Video


Short Rant on the ESA and the Uninformed

The Endangered Species Act might not be as well known as the EPA, but it’s probably more effective. I knew about the ESA prior to the class, but I’m definitely learning more about it and its history. Before I get to that, I was astonished by how few people knew about the ESA. I might be a bit older than some of the students in the class, but still. I even heard people talking about the ESA protecting animals that are outside of the U.S., even after we’ve discussed that it is a U.S only law. It really does show how small of a bubble some people live in, and how little they understand about the U.S wildlife. It almost seems as if people generally know more about the wildlife in Africa compared to the wildlife in, lets say the Bay Area. I’m sure more than a a few people didn’t know what a salt marsh was until they took this class. Still even though they might not know it, I hope they are learning more about it thanks to this course.

I was surprised to learn about how rocky the history of the ESA was. Implementation of the “Good Squad” exemption seemed like it was the only way for the opposition to continue to work around the law. Thankfully it was dropped in the 90’s.  It was quite shock, though it probably shouldn’t have been, that the halting of some projects due to an endangered species could take so long and goes through so much litigation. The Tellico Dam situation took over 10 years to be settled and most of it was going back and forth from the dam company wanting to build where an endangered species lived and the environmentalist firing back to stop it. I knew our judicial process was slow, but that’s just insane.

Learning about the specifics of Section 7 of the ESA was both depressing and encouraging. It turns out that Section 7 does more to encourage companies to be more environmentally conscious rather than stopping the destruction entirely. That’s not a bad thing since at least we can save some of the environment using Section 7. It’s not a surprise to me that the Bush administration tried to get rid of section 7, but I am glad that it has consistently held up. The ESA is a very important tool for saving U.S. wildlife and while it’s frustrating that more people don’t know about it, at least 40 more people now know how important it is.

Summary of the ESA and Section 7:

Through federal action and by encouraging the establishment of state programs, the 1973 Endangered Species Act provided for the conservation of ecosystems upon which threatened and endangered species of fish, wildlife, and plants depend. The Act:

  • authorizes the determination and listing of species as endangered and threatened;
  • prohibits unauthorized taking, possession, sale, and transport of endangered species;
  • provides authority to acquire land for the conservation of listed species, using land and water conservation funds;
  • authorizes establishment of cooperative agreements and grants-in-aid to States that establish and maintain active and adequate programs for endangered and threatened wildlife and plants;
  • authorizes the assessment of civil and criminal penalties for violating the Act or regulations; and
  • authorizes the payment of rewards to anyone furnishing information leading to arrest and conviction for any violation of the Act or any regulation issued thereunder.

Section 7:

All other federal agencies, in consultation with and with the assistance of the
Secretary, must use their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of
the Act by carrying out programs for the conservation of listed species.
All federal agencies, in consultation with and with the assistance of the lead agency,
must insure that any action authorized, funded or carried out by the agency (agency
action) is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of an endangered or
threatened species, or result in destruction or adverse modification of a critical
habitat of a species.

San Francisco Bay Getting Healthier

The State of the Bay Report comes out every two years and this year’s research has found that the Bay Area waters is improving, though there is still a long way to go to return to clean waters. The report published on September 19th, showed that the waters are far less polluted than the 1950’s and 60’s. Thanks to the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, billions of dollars were spent to clean up wastewater. The banning of substances like DDT and PCBs have also helped with cleaning the water.

“The bay’s health is definitely getting better. We’re making progress,” said Andrew Gunther, an environmental scientist and chief author of the “The State of San Francisco Bay 2011.” “But we still have a way to go. Starting with the Gold Rush, we had a century of degrading the bay. And we’ve only been restoring it since the early 1970s.”

This shows what can be done if attention is brought to environmental issues, but most of the turn around can be dedicated to all the money spent in order to protect our waters. That is one of the issues with our society. We need laws in order for us to do the right thing, but not enough of us go out of our way to be environmentally conscious. San Francisco is a rare case where people are constantly making choices to better the environment. Even little things like using reusable water bottles and grocery bags have helped keep trash out of the waters.  Still I think we can do more, but again it’s going to cost money.

One thing we learned is that saving a species is nice, but saving an ecosystem is the best way to reverse the effects we’ve had on the environment.  The report has found that in the last decade almost 10,000 acres of wetlands have been restored. That brings the number to 50,000 acres. The news article about this report states that biologist are already seeing increase in birds and fish in the restored areas. This is one way we can help to further improve the Bay Area waters. The plan now is to get to 100,000 though funding remains an issue.

The article points out that there are still issues pleaguing the Bay Area, one of them being the diversion of fresh water from the San Joaquin River Delta.

“For the past several decades, the bay has been in a state of chronic drought,” Swanson said. “Protecting the bay’s ecosystem and recovering its fisheries will require changes in water management in the bay’s tributary rivers and the Delta to increase freshwater flows, particularly during the spring.”

There is also still an issue with mercury flowing from the abandoned mines and into the bay waters. Still reports like these give us hope and lay out plans for what we can do to improve the waters in the coming decade.

[Full news article:]

Today was just as informative as the other days in class but we learned more about what one organization in particular is doing about environmental conservation. Norman Gershenz, CEO and co-founder of is a graduate student form SF State and came to talk to us about his organization, the impact that its had, and what we can do to help the cause.

Norman talked about how he founded the non-profit organization and how he changed a lot of Zoos and Aquariums to start working on educating the public about environmental conservation and more importantly to start working on ways to donate to create more wildlife sanctuaries. To date has raised more than $3.9 million thanks to the efforts of 150 institutions, 2,700 schools, and millions of children and adults. This money is used to protect wildlife in ways that I personally have never heard about.

The goal, as Norman talked about, is to save ecosystems. Not just saving specific species, but save the ecosystem so that thousands of other species can be protected. I’ve heard it from other people, seeing as I’m friends with someone who works for a non-profit marine biology institution called MSI, that Zoos and Aquariums don’t always do the best job of educating the public about environmental conservation. The first time I heard about this I didn’t believe it, but the more I hear about it the more I start to realize that these “attractions” don’t do as much as they could to aid in the protection of wildlife. So it is nice to see that there is an organization out there that helps Zoos and Aquariums to utilize their reach with the public to raise money and awareness for conservation.

One great way that the program brings in money is through adopting acres or coral reefs around the world. You can adopt sites around the world from Brazil to Costa Rica to Indonesia and help save acres of wildlife. For just $25 you can save half an acre of wildlife, which is pretty amazing. They also have quarter machines around several Zoos and Aquariums, which help to save 90 square feet of wildlife. This has really inspired me to help any way that I can, and has made me more aware of how I should help donate more when I visit these locations. Adopting these locations is something I would do even with no income coming in. For $100 to save 2 acres of Coral Reef, that’s chump change for the effect you can have on the environment (a positive effect for once).

California Bans Sale of Shark Fins

We’ve been studying how we (humans) have been affecting the environment and one example of this is the sale of shark fins for shark fin soup. Shark fin soup is a part of my culture. I grew up eating it at many banquets and I love it; however when I found out how harmful this dish was to our environment and the sharks, I realized why we shouldn’t be serving it anywhere. Most places my family goes to have stopped serving it many many years ago and its been 10 or more years since I’ve had it. For those who don’t know the soup is seen as a sign of respect to your guests. The fishing process for the soup is very inhumane. Many fishermen will cut the fins off the shark then toss them back in the ocean, a horrible way for a shark to die.

Recently California passed a bill to ban Shark Fins in the state of California. Once signed by Governor Brown, California will join Hawaii, Oregon and Washington as states that officially ban the sale of shark fins. Although I am Chinese American and was accustomed to eating this traditional dish, I’m 100% for this ban and feel that those Chinese Americans that are opposed to the bill should take a look at the picture below, because anyone who sees this image and doesn’t get sick just looking at it isn’t human.

I’m half Chinese and Mexican, so big parties and banquets are the norm in my culture, but seeing as we’ve had banquets that don’t have Shark Fin soup for many years, I see no reason why more families can’t follow suit. While some politicians in California claim this is a racial attack on Chinese Americans and their culture, Christopher Chin the executive director of San Francisco-based Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research and Education, wrote in an e-mail that politicians explaining the impact that this is having. In the email he says:

“Sharks are one of our oceans’ top predators, keeping the entire ecosystem in check, but shark populations have declined dramatically over the last few decades as a result of human greed and lack of understanding,” wrote Chin, who is Chinese-American.

Lack of Understanding is the key word here. My culture is all about traditions, beliefs in luck both bad and good, and going against these traditions won’t be well received at all. Just take New Years for instance. I’ve been practicing the same traditions for New Years since I was a kid. Having new clothes and wearing red on that day is something that is in-grained in me, and I do it every year. However, in my opinion New Years and serving shark fin soup as a sign of respect are completely different. I don’t wear the same color red every year but it’s really the symbol that matters. So if you substitute chicken for shark fin in the soup, should it really matter that much?

Now with the ban in California, though restaurants still have till the end of 2013 to completely dissolve their Shark Fin inventory, Hong Kong now has to look at changing their policy as well. It is believed that Hong Kong provides half of the worlds supply of Shark Fins. China has already tried to limit the sale by running campaigns against the sale of shark fin soup from celebrities such as Yao Ming. However no policy is currently in place to prevent or limit the sale of shark fin and if the reports are anywhere close to being correct, it’s far too popular to have any sort of regulation anytime soon.

The only thing I can do is never eat it again, and encourage family members in Hong Kong to do the same, but like I said, it’s not that hard since I haven’t had it in years. Though I will always remember the incredible taste of shark fin soup, the image I showed above will continue to haunt me and I’ll never be able to eat that again.

Read more about this here:

Franciscan Manzanita Could be Designated as an Endangered Species

One of the first things I remember from this class was the first lecture where we were told about a plant that was believed to be extinct and was later found again in the Presidio. I can’t imagine what it was like for scientists or botanists a few years back when they found out this extinct plant was no longer extinct. Now in 2011the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that the Franciscan Manzanita should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. In an article written last week, the writer gives a brief history of the plant, which was thought to be extinct after a cemetery was built bulldozing the entire plant life in that area.  He later goes on to explain that designating the Franciscan Manzanita as an endangered species would mean that anyone who tamers with the plant could face fines and criminal prosecution.

There is currently a 60-day public comment period going on for the proposed designation, but to me this should be a no brainer. I know it’s just a plant and I assume there were more plants that were sent to extinction due to human expansion, but when have a chance to save one we shouldn’t hesitate to do so. I also learned in the article that the Wild Equity Institute had sued Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for failing to protect the last remaining specimen in the wild. If that is the case that he was not doing enough to save the plant in the wild, than he should face consequences. We are talking about an extinct species that had reappeared in the Presidio, I’m not sure why anyone would want to dismiss this as anything but amazing.

I had never heard of this Manzanita until the first lecture but I hope that by this time next year this plant will be under the protection of the Endangered Species Act and at least try to help this plant survive in the wild.
Full Article:

Night Life at the Cal Academy

Night Life at the Cal Academy is a great chance for adults to enjoy what the Academy of Science has to offer, and best of all you don’t have to deal with the all the kids getting in your way. While you enjoy drinks you can walk around the entire facility attempting to learn something from the exhibits there. It does feel like a club scene but every now and then you’ll have people actually enjoying the exhibits and learning about the various wildlife they have on display. While I already know a good amount about evolution and certain wildlife species, it’s always amazing to see them up close and personal.

I think that is something that is lost on so many people who go to Night Life. I think it’s great that the Cal Academy hosts this event. It’s a great source of revenue and it opens up more people to the Cal Academy. There are tons of people who go to this event and I wonder how many of them realize how amazing it is to be able to see examples of evolution and adaptation right in front of them. In class we’ve been discussing evolution and Darwin.  We go through what Darwin discovered on the Galapagos Islands, gradual evolution, adaptation and natural selection. Walking around the Cal Academy you get to see how different species evolved or adapted to their environment in order to survive.

As I go through the exhibits and see all of these species that evolved to survive I wonder if other people really understand the scope of what they are seeing. Do they get the same feeling from seeing these animals as Darwin did when he first discovered the Galapagos? Probably not, but maybe we should all get that feeling of astonishment and amazement when we come across frogs shaped like rocks, bugs shaped like leaves or lizards that change the color of their skin to match their surroundings. Even as everyone was waiting in line to buy drink tickets there was a display that showed an early hominid Paranthropus Boisei Carnium. This shows how we evolved into what we are today, yet it’s so easy to miss this historic finding as we all wait in line for wine tasting tickets.

All this evidence of evolution is right in front of us and while some might take it for granted, I’m always amazed by the exhibits at the Cal Academy.  I might not get as excited as Darwin did, but I always enjoy seeing how so many species evolved and adapted to survive, and then later got caught and placed in a glass case for all of us to see.