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19 Aquariums Pledge to Fight Plastic Pollution, Ban Single-Use Plastic Bags and Straws

A collaboration of aquariums across the U.S. have launched a campaign Monday to reduce ocean and freshwater plastic pollution.

Notably, as of today, all 19 aquariums that belong to the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) have "eliminated" plastic straws and single-use carryout plastic bags at their facilities.


Some of the biggest aquariums in the country are part of the ACP's "In Our Hands" effort, including the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Boston's New England Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. The 19 aquariums of the ACP span 16 states and count 20 million visitors each year.

Other anti-plastic goals of the In Our Hands campaign include:

  • Significantly reduce or eliminate plastic beverage bottles by December 2020
  • Showcase innovative alternatives to single-use plastic in their facilities (such as reusable bags, paper straws, reusable water bottles and water refilling stations)

More than 8 million tons of plastic enters our oceans each year, causing extensive damage to marine life. Freshwater sources such as lakes and rivers have also seen significant levels of plastic trash.

"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 Shedd Aquarium President and CEO Dr. Bridget Coughlin. "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."

A major part of the effort is to encourage aquarium vendors and visitors to reduce their plastic footprint.

"As leaders in aquatic conservation, aquariums are expected to walk their talk, and that's exactly what this partnership is meant to do," said National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli. "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 aquariums will also continue pushing for policy changes at the local, state and national level to reduce the flow of plastic pollution into our waters. For instance, in 2016, Monterey Bay Aquarium urged Californians to vote yes on Proposition 67 to uphold the state's ban on single-use plastic carryout bags.

"By using our voice with visitors our 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," said Monterey's Executive Director Julie Packard. "The solution to plastic pollution is in our hands."

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An elderly woman walks toward us from the road. Tuktoyaktuk, in the Northwest Territories, is a sizable town by Arctic standards, with a full-time population of 954, but it's small enough that the bulk of the town likely knows we're here. The woman is smiling when she reaches us.

"I saw you coming in," she says. "Where you guys come from?" "We're from Vancouver," I say, my mouth still half full of food. "We started our trip in Inuvik nine days ago." Her name is Eileen Jacobsen and she's an Elder in town. She and her husband, Billy, run a sightseeing business. "You should come up to the house in the morning and have some coffee," she tells us.

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We notice an elderly man in a blue winter jacket staring at us a short distance away. He's sitting outside a small wooden house and smiles as we approach. "You guys must be the rowers," he says. "Too windy to be out rowing." His jacket hood is pulled tight over his ball cap and he dons a pair of wraparound shades with yellow lenses that would better suit a racing cyclist than a village Elder. His name is Fred Wolki, and he's lived in Tuk for the last fifty years. "I grew up on my father's boat until they sent me to school in 1944, then I came here."

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"We're curious if things have changed much here since you were a boy," Frank says.

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I listen to his words, amazed. There's no agenda here, no vested interest, no job creation or moneymaking—just an elderly man bearing witness to his changing world.

Excerpted from Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea by Kevin Vallely, published September 2017 by Greystone Books. Condensed and reproduced with permission from the publisher.

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