Pacific Northwest salmon populations are declining rapidly, microplastic pollution is spreading across our oceans, and global warming is causing disparity in the sex ratio of sea turtles. This much is clear: our oceans’ inhabitants need heroes now more than ever.
To be clear, our marine species are not without advocates. The public sector has spent nearly half a century protecting the animals that call our world’s oceans and rivers home, from fostering sustainable fisheries to protecting endangered aquatic species. And for decades, the private sector has been an important partner in supporting those efforts. But with limitations on government investment coupled with increasing environmental stressors, the private sector’s role is now even more vital to the survival and preservation of the world’s marine species.
To protect our irreplaceable marine life, private institutions must maintain and bolster our commitment to waterways and oceans. It’s something we simply all should be doing, and an effort that SeaWorld is proud to be leading.
My hope, and the hope of many other marine biologists, conservationists and concerned animal lovers, is that our society will recognize our oceans and marine animals as treasures worth preserving, rather than denying the impacts of global warming and human behavior on our planet. But as we hope, we remind the world that leaders in the private sector must play a far greater role in preserving ecosystems in jeopardy.
As head of research and science at SeaWorld, I am dedicated to the notion of investing in our planet. Since 1964, SeaWorld has helped fund, rescue and care for marine animals that have been threatened by the effects of human impacts, including ocean pollution and overfishing, from cold-stunned turtles to orphaned whale calves. In addition to our rescue program, we proudly lead conservation research, provide field support and direct education efforts around the world to ensure our impact spans far beyond our parks.
We’re in good company. Other private organizations, including our national and global partners, are devoted to the protection and conservation of marine species and their habitats. They recognize the value of this role and have stepped up to the plate, productively allocating resources and employing cutting-edge technologies and research methods to address the issues that plague our waterways. Partners like OCEARCH, National Audubon Society, Living Lands & Waters and many others work with us to preserve and restore our oceans, from protecting endangered killer whales in the wild to studying ocean health and advocating against the commercial killing of marine animals.
We’re proud of the impact our partners have already made. In its mission to protect sharks and the ocean, OCEARCH has completed more than 30 expeditions since its inception in 2011. These efforts, coupled with conservation partnerships like its work with SeaWorld, have resulted in more than 50 research papers to date. The organization’s open-source data is shared in near-real time for free with the public, which has allowed scholars around the world to reap the benefits of its expeditions and gain access to valuable data on great white sharks and other large apex predators. Knowledge is power. OCEARCH is sharing knowledge.
As another example, along the Gulf of Maine, the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin has worked since 1973 to protect and restore threatened puffin populations. Since its inception, Project Puffin has restored more than 1,000 puffin pairs to three Maine islands. Field teams it supports year-round helped make 2017 the state’s most productive breeding year. The techniques the program developed extend beyond the U.S., benefitting rare and endangered seabirds worldwide.
Our partners’ conservation efforts extend into rivers and waterways, which ultimately empty into the sea, sometimes bringing pollution with them. For the last 20 years, Living Lands & Waters has hosted cleanups to remove trash and debris from waterways in 21 states, removing roughly 10 million pounds of garbage. The organization has also planted more than a million trees, fighting the entry of toxins into our waterways.
While these programs are just the tip of the iceberg, they alone are not enough. We still need many more private dollars available to fill the gaps and invest in the incredible species that inhabit our world. These dollars can be donations or business investments; every bit counts.
For this reason, we are committed to ensuring that SeaWorld visits don’t end at our park boundaries. Guests take home inspiration and learning. Ticket purchases help care for and protect threatened species. The work supported by the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund continues to make a real-world impact on protecting habitats and species.
I invite you to join in the effort as individuals and as businesses, as we continue fighting for the public funding and protections our marine animals and habitats deserve. It is our investments in time, energy and funding, and that of heroes like you, that will make the difference in the lives of our aquatic friends.