Julie Packard of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Talks About the Future of Our Oceans

Curiosity.com/Video screen capture

Julie Packard is part of the Packard family, which founded the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Following in the family footsteps of ocean conservation, Packard studied marine algal ecology and aquaculture in college, completing her masters degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and has been the aquarium's Executive Director for 26 years. Discussing her thoughts on Discovery's Curiosity.com site, Packard has addressed many pressing questions in ocean conservation.

Why should we care about the oceans?

"The majority of the living space, the majority of the area where life exists is underwater, if you look at it in three dimensions. Of course, the oceans are such a key piece of life. They're our life support system."

Why are so many people unaware of the threats facing our oceans?

"Getting people connected with the oceans is really tough because most of us spend very little time there. Most of humanity lives on the coastlines, so that's the good news. People see the ocean, but they really don't have an understanding of what goes on there and how it connects with us."

What can aquariums teach us about the oceans?

"Today the aquarium community is really dedicated to a science, education and conservation mission, if you will. I think it starts not only, again, connecting people with the animals but telling the stories about the status of these animals in the wild: what their trajectory is, how humans interact with that."

What should U.S. policy on the oceans be?

"The personal actions that we ask people to do, like switch out your light bulbs or take public transit or whatever, those are all very important, but in the big scheme of things, if you look at the analyses of what it will take to reduce global CO2 emissions, it really requires policy intervention. It requires land use planning changes. It requires standards for fuel efficiency in appliances and how we go about our industrial-scale enterprise. So policy is absolutely essential for success in both of those domains, whether it's ending overfishing or whether it's solving global climate change."

Can an ocean conservationist eat seafood?

"Fish is the last commercially-harvested wildlife that humanity still has the enterprise on, which is interesting. Many of the others, we drove to extinction or virtual through the market hunts for birds in the early part of the history of our country, or we can look at the buffalo, obviously. But when it comes to fish, I do believe that, harvested in the right way and the right level, there's a way that we can have seafood be part of our diet."

How can aquariums encourage ocean conservation?

"I think there is a very powerful role, and a lot of our colleagues are getting more and more involved in that role of inviting the public -- we're not -- people aren't coming in our door because we're an advocacy NGO. Not everyone wants to engage in that way, but we want to move people along that path toward engagement and engaging in whatever way they feel."

Which parts of the ocean are still unexplored?

"Most of the ocean, of course, has been touched by the human enterprise, and I guess personally -- there are two lines of thought about exploring the ocean. I'm sure if you talk to different scientists, you'll hear those points of view. One is that it's all about humans' need to get down there and see it with their own eyes and that human perception enables you to gather information that a video camera or technology cannot. The other is that we should develop more unmanned exploratory devices to get down there. You can stay longer. You can collect long-term data sets. It's a lot less expensive. You're not risking human life and limb."

Tags: Conservation | Oceans

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