The Monterey Bay Aquarium is deeply committed to making a difference on critical ocean conservation issues and continues to make big waves to protect the ocean. The organization’s Sustainability and Operations Manager, Claudia Pineda Tibbs, enlightens Jess and Mason on some big topics around ocean plastics, sustainable fishing practices and how social equity can affect sustainability decisions. Listen to learn about a comprehensive program MBA created to help people make better seafood choices for a healthy ocean.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium – https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/
And their Seafood Watch program – https://www.seafoodwatch.org/
Pretty ok transcript:
Jess: Welcome to the mostly green podcast today. We’re talking with Claudia Paneda Tibbs, who is a Salvadoran American scientist, birder nature, lover, ocean conservationist, and sustainability professional, who has spent the last 15 years working in Monterrey at the Monterey bay.
Branded as eco
Mason: Latina, which is a pretty cool brand, I would say.
Claudia: Definitely. I love it. I miss it so much. But when I came out as non-binary, I kind of put that in retirement, but still very much, um, you know, the eco Salvadorian at heart and will always continue to be that person. Very
Mason: cool. I think they’re, I mean, Um, I, I guess interesting about the Spanish language as we move away from gender identities is a lot of the words they, they have gender associated with them.
Um, how do you. I think like what, where do we go from here in the Spanish language?
Claudia: Yeah, I, you know, for me personally, I think that just making language a little bit more inclusive and, um, just accessible to people who don’t fit into the, you know, traditional construct of the binary world allows for more people to be seen.
I think it allows for more people to just also recognize. Identities can change and they’re ever evolving. And the way that we as humans and as society adapt, um, just is a really great opportunity for people to see what works for them and how they want to be identified and how they want to be seen in this world.
And. I think when you feel like you can be your authentic self, then you can be your best self as well. Absolutely.
Mason: Yeah. Yeah. Um, I lived in Spain for a year and when I came back I was fluent. And so I tried to keep up on, I would just watch. Telenovelas and other things to try to keep here in the language.
And I remember it show where it was a movement to try to, um, take the language, gender neutral. And at the time this was like 10 or 15 years ago. And I’m like, God, that sounds like changing the English measurement system over to metric, which I guess is a generational thing. But, um, you know, probably a more.
I would call it a more forceful push with the language, then measurement is just like, whatever. It’s a fun, it’s fun. I don’t care if it’s a meter, but what people care about the language, you know, hopefully that, that,
Claudia: yeah, absolutely. And I think what’s really interesting too, is that the folks who are pushing for the more, you know, non-gendered approach to Spanish language, Just folks who haven’t seen themselves represented in the language or have felt uncomfortable being referred to as loud or L.
And I know for me, I kind of waited a little bit and wasn’t really sure how to identify in Spanish as a non-binary person, because in English it’s so easy, right. It’s a them and. In Spanish. I was like, I don’t know what I am. I’m not 80, I’m not ill. Uh, and I finally found a year E L L E. And I was like, that’s it, that’s what I was waiting for.
So, um, you know, Thinking about how you also welcome people, you know, instead you would normally say BNB needles and you can say , I’m referring to your group of friends, right? Has always been Amigos. Even if you have people who identify as female, always defaulted to the, to the male gender, and you can include everybody by saying.
So it’s been, it’s been really fun. And when friends are catching themselves, going back to the gendered female, um, terms, they’re like, I’m sorry. I’m like totally. Okay. Language is evolving. That’s a great thing about language, right? It’s also, um, Knowing that like, I’m not going to take, I’m not going to take that personal if it’s a slip.
Cause also, I mean, like I definitely have been like, girl, how do I like my husband? Um, uh, so yeah, it’s just, it’s a really fun time right now to see how language is evolving and how that translates into just like I said, the way in which we are adapting to everything at this moment.
Mason: Yeah, it reminds me, um, that’s actually the last thing leave in Texas.
And even in Spain, I mean, we say y’all, I say y’all all the time. And there was no like how, um, Amigos, EME, Gus. Cause I didn’t, I wasn’t necessarily comfortable calling a mixed group of people Amigos cause I wasn’t used to the gender language. Um, so that was funny.
Claudia: Yeah, I go for a hint there. Um, you just say like, Hey, like if I, if
Mason: well, anyway, back to her bio,
Jess: um, yeah, so back to the bio a bit.
So your professional experience is as a bilingual science educator and ocean science community. And so with that, um, Claudia centers, their work on the intersection of environmentalist in culture and is currently the sustainability and operations manager conservation in science here at Monterey bay aquarium.
So Claudia, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. Um, we’re both really excited and appreciative of the time. Um, we did see that your love for oceans and environmental ism came from your dad. And so we were curious if we could.
Claudia: Oh, yes, my dad. Yeah, my, um, you know, it’s really, it’s really interesting because for a very long time, I thought that my passion for environmental ism really came from.
My high school teacher, Ms. Stephens. Um, she was just the best teacher that I had ever had. And she was my chemistry teacher. She decided she was going to start an AP environmental science class in high school. And she said, I think you would really like this class, but you have to come to school in the summer.
And I was like school the summer. Yeah, totally I’m down. Um, and it was just a really cool opportunity to better understand how green my community was. So. Growing up in south gate, California and Southern California. I never really felt like I was surrounded by native. And it wasn’t until Ms. Stevens class, where I realized, well, nature is basically all around us and learning how to identify trees, learning how I had identify, um, plants.
That was really, um, really amazing. And I think that’s what spurred my love for ecology. But before all that, my dad was just somebody who always loved. But I was still under the idea that nature had to be going to a forest or going to the mountains or going somewhere where you aren’t surrounded by manmade objects.
And so, um, I think back to the things that my dad would do as this nature lover, and he would grow plants. And he loved his plan. I mean, he still has his plants, but he loved his plants when I was growing up in our childhood home and he would grow fruit trees and herbs. And I would see him take cuttings from yards, which I don’t think he should be doing now, but he used to do that and like propagate stuff.
And I didn’t care about plants at that time because I didn’t understand them. And I didn’t really know a whole lot. What goes into caring for plants. And I was like, that’s too complicated. I’m good. I’m going to go read my books. And, um, yeah, it was just really cool. And I remember one time he was out, um, Of town and he’s like, okay, you’re in charge of the plant.
So here’s what you need to do. And he had this like long list of everything that I needed a water and how much water. I was like, Ugh, this is so hard. And so, um, just that care for some theme that’s alive, um, is definitely something that he instilled in me. And even the way in which we had our pets, um, you know, I just kind of had grown up loving animals and I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, but the.
There was the reality of like, wow, that’s, that’s kind of scary. If I have to be the person who has to take care of somebody’s pet and like, what if things go wrong? I’m like, Hmm. So anxiety since a very young age. But, um, when my dad, when I would see the way that he took care of our dog, or even like a goldfish, it was always with this really gentle touch and this, I don’t know this level of care that.
I admired so much and I wanted to emulate, and I don’t think I realized that until later in life. Um, and that’s who I wanted to be too. So I think it was definitely something it’s, it’s definitely something that’s ingrained into my DNA because of my dad. Um, but the appreciation didn’t come till much later.
Mason: Yeah. That’s a fun story. And I have a lot of similarities and one of the other reasons. I resisted, um, caring for plants was because he would always serve them on our dinner table. His dad, my dad. And, uh, you know, I just didn’t like the broccoli and the different vegetables he is making me eat. We made broccoli, cheddar soup one time and all these bugs floated to the top.
And we’re just like, no. Wait, it’s not just protein guys, but we wouldn’t do it. So yeah, the whole pot of broccoli, cheddar soup himself over like four days.
Jess: Like I grew this and made this. Yeah,
Mason: love it. So what are you excited about most. And
Claudia: your work. Oh, in my work. Oh yeah. Um, what I’m most excited about right now is we are in the I’m in the time of year when I’m doing our greenhouse gas inventory.
So getting a lot of data from folks around the aquarium, and I’m looking at our consumption data when it comes to electricity and water consumption and things like that. So that’s really exciting because I’m able to look back and see how we did compare it to the previous year, which. Was an outlier.
It’s going to be an outlier, but, um, having data to make decisions that are based off of, you know, trends. And here’s where we think here’s where I think we should be going and making recommendations that are, that are based in, um, in data and best practices is really exciting to me because it’s not just shooting or aiming for a target and.
Thinking that it’s just going to work. Like somehow we’ll make it work, but if the data doesn’t show that we can make it work, then you’re not really flexible and adaptable and looking at well, here’s where we can make some changes. Here’s where we can make some efficiencies and improvements. Um, so that’s, that’s really exciting to me.
And then. Part that I really enjoy as well as looking at, um, just our overall consumption, um, and our emissions factor. And we work closely with a company to offset our emissions. So that’s how we’re able to achieve, um, net, um, or carbon neutral certification. But investing in projects is probably my favorite part of all of it, because there are some really great projects out there.
And, um, one that I, that I really like is this mangrove project. Um, so it’s a million mangrove project and they’re trying to. A million mangroves in Mexico and, um, mangroves are just an amazing ecosystem. So they are a nursery for fish and they sequester carbon and they’re just really cool looking, you know, trees.
So that’s, that’s something that I really enjoy doing as
Jess: Do you know where they’re at right now and trying to plant a million?
Claudia: No, I don’t know off the top of my head. I don’t, but it’s, um, it’s really cool because the project, there’s also another project in Africa. Um, so they’re, they have a few of them around the globe, but the one in Mexico is the one that we’ve supported for a couple of years now.
Very cool. Yeah.
Mason: Really cool.
How long have you all been carbon neutral, certified
Claudia: 2017. Wow. Yeah. So since 2017, we, um, You know, took our commitment to sustainability, a step further, and actually articulated a goal at the aquarium, which is to model best practices for environmental sustainability. And the outcomes of that goal are to achieve net zero carbon emissions.
And one of the ways we do that is through our offsets, but, um, you know, As an aquarium net is, is really what we can achieve because we have animals in our care. It’s going to be really difficult to achieve total, you know, zero carbon. But, um, we also have a mix of renewable energy in, um, the power that we source or the electricity that we source and.
Just water’s really heavy. So moving water from one side of the building to the other, it takes a lot of energy. So definitely, you know, it would be different if it was, um, we are just a zero electricity aquarium and you can, we’re just there to interpret what’s in the dyed pools, but that’s, that’s not the case.
So, yeah. Um, and then the other outcomes we have are to achieve net zero. Which is a challenge as well, um, due to, you know, the state of recycling in the United States, um, and then also, uh, achieving sustainable sort of earth sourcing, sustainable seafood and produce for human and animal consumption. Yeah.
Mason: Um, note for the listeners, this is mostly green tour recording. And so we have lots of fun background noise, and we are in the courtyard of the Monterey bay aquarium offices, um, for COVID
Claudia: and some goals, they also have thoughts.
Mason: Yeah. I think they’re trying to get in on the podcast.
Jess: So two of the broad topics that we were looking forward to digging into with your sustainable fishing and then the ocean plastic crisis.
Um, so we know seafood is responsible for some really big numbers annually. It feeds 3 billion people and about 170 million tons are harvested. Um, so a question for you is, you know, the, what the current state and direction of ocean fish stocks are.
Claudia: Yeah. That’s a great question. And, you know, I would say as somebody.
It’s not a seafood can swimmer, I don’t eat seafood. Um, but I’m all for sea vegetables. And, um, as somebody who works closely with our seafood watch program, um, it really depends on what you’re, what you’re asking, like, which stock in particular. So, um, if you’re looking at aquaculture, for example, a lot of those bivalves they’re doing really well and they’re doing great things, they help filter the water out.
Um, so there are these little champions that I don’t think get enough credit. All of the amount of work that they do
Jess: and by awkward culture, that’s the fish farming.
Claudia: Um, so I, in terms of aquaculture, what I’m referring to is more of the abalone and the mussels and clams and things that are being, um, yeah.
Farmed, but are mostly the bivalves. Um, and I would say there’s also a lot to, to be said in terms of seafood, that is. Farmed. So fish farms. Seafood watch is doing a lot to ensure that the farming of fish is being done in the most sustainable way possible. And, you know, for stupid. Yeah. And I was gonna say, which, you know, depends on who you ask, what sustainability is, but you know, the traditional definition of sustainability, which you all probably know about is, you know, focusing on people and planet.
And then there’s that other P that makes me cringe, which is profit. Um, and I think. I would say that seafood watch is focused way more on just planet and people. Um, and in the work that they do to great stock assessments and to give recommendations, um, they’re working really closely with governments.
They’re working with. The powers that can enact that change, which I think is really different compared to, you know, maybe some entities that are looking at really, um, pushing the, the consumer, just the consumer side of things. Like if you, you know, you have to, you have to choose this option and, and that’s good, you know, it’s good to give consumers that information and that choice, but, um, There’s a theory of change that, you know, once you find out about the issue, then you’re going to want to do something about it.
Right. And so. Who’s going to be there to help you, right? I mean, I’m not saying that we as individuals don’t have power, but you have to create some, some real momentum in some cases to make it sustainable. That’s the pun there. I’m on a sustainability podcast, but yeah. So working with governments, working with these, um, large seafood producers to ensure.
They are moving towards, you know, not having antibiotics in their aquaculture or ensuring that the stock assessments are, um, being evaluated on a regular basis. And also ensuring that people know a little bit more about those. Maybe not so enticing seafood options, um, because people love. Shrimp tuna salmon, right?
Like those are the go-tos, but especially in an area like ours, where there’s a pretty active, you know, seafood community. And if you can purchase right off the dock, like that’s incredible, you know, like you can support your local economy. You can also see the traceability, you know, in, in a real time, like I saw.
Doc right in front of me. And I purchased the seafood from the Fisher person, you know, like that’s, that’s incredible and powerful. It’s powerful. Yeah. And it’s, it’s almost like the farm to table movement that was so big, right. A few years ago, which is still big, but it was getting a lot of attention and you just put it in the water.
It’s the same thing, like do that. And I think that’s where seafood watch is really trying to go to. Yeah, to ensure that people have that access and the traceability information and those resources to make, um, choices that are going to be best for the planet. Because I mean, let’s be real, those of us in these more Western, you know, countries, we don’t need.
To get all of the quote unquote benefits and nutrients. Like we were just talking about having, you know, some of your beet powder for breakfast. Like you’re getting nutrition that way, but it’s really in countries where there isn’t that opportunity that. Beach, we should be ensuring that that food is available for people who depend on it.
We don’t depend on it. We are, we have the luxury of making the choice to either eat it or not to eat it. And some people don’t have
Mason: that choice. Yeah. It’s a fascinating issue. And seafood watch was one of the first apps on my phone. You know, it, that the app taught me what, the difference between line Cod and trolling.
Um, and so I was able to make choices and eventually, I mean, A lot of documentaries out there about the ocean. And very few of them paint a very bright picture about what’s going on. And really these multinational corporations are, you know, robbing these, uh, Uh, village communities on the water of their ability to sustain themselves.
Um, so, you know, varying levels of alarmism in these documentaries, is there, like, what’s your favorite documentary about the ocean? I know Monterey bay aquarium was involved in one more than one. And then are there any that you think maybe go too far or highlight the wrong issues because. You know, there a couple of, you know, one of my favorite ones, I forget the name of it.
Well, um, I have to look it up. I think it was called south Pacific or south Pacific seas or something, but at the end, one of the really cool things it did was highlight how resilient these underwater ecosystems are. And that as soon as people moved out of them, they just floated with life. I think that was south Pacific.
Claudia: So I’m to have to look that one up. That one sounds like a good one. Yeah. But you know, I mean, I love documentaries and ocean documentaries. Yeah. You, you had me hooked there. Um, just by saying like, there’s this new documentary. Yeah. I bought the ocean. Okay. Um, I would say for me the one. There’ve been several that have had a big impact on me.
And I’ve been a vegetarian and vegan for a very long time for over half of my life. And so a lot of information isn’t new to me. Right. So when I see things like, um, like chasing. I think for the second half of that documentary, I just cried the entire time because I was like climate change and I’m never gonna see corals.
And, um, and I told my husband, I’m like, I need you to promise that you’re gonna stop eating beef, please. Um, I knew, I knew like we really, you need to do you in particular need to do more to reduce your CO2 emission. And he’s like, okay. Um, so there are some that have really impacted me because I think.
What can be lost. Um, and then there are some where I think it’s just really interesting the way in which questions are being presented or information is being presented. And, um, with those kinds of documentaries that pack a lot of information in I’m like, whoa, you know, what would have been great if this was like a series, because.
And I think people in general need more time to digest the information and to also not feel helpless and hopeless. And I think that’s part of the ego fatigue, and it’s so dangerous to just be on that type of road where it’s, it doesn’t really matter what I’m going to do. Everything’s going to fall apart anyway.
Or like there’s no real solution. I’m like eat. No, that’s not true. There are solutions. And it’s it’s when we see the. Great examples of either people coming together, governments standing for change or, um, businesses making commitments to do better where I find hope still as a viable option. And then when I see, especially like younger generations speaking up for what they want this.
Adult life to look like and generations after them to look like that’s when I’m like, okay, I still feel hopeful. I still feel hopeful. Um, but yeah, chasing coral was one that really hit me in the fields. Um, The Cove was another one. Oof. Yeah, that was one that I was like, oh gosh. Um, and, and I think it’s also part of that like shock factor when you see it, right?
Like you can hear all the things, but when you see it, it, it definitely makes you take a different perspective. Um, and the one that I really. I thought it was done pretty well was, um, I think it was called the plastic plastic ocean. Um, that one was, was pretty good.
Mason: I had to make her watch it without me, cause that was the one where it was hitting me.
And within a first I just like, I, you know, it makes me change my whole life and I was like, I’m going to go hop on. And try to fix this. I think Mason,
Claudia: come back. You have to
Jess: watch this one moment. Oh my gosh. It was heart
Claudia: wrenching. Yeah. And I, and I think it’s also part of that whole, like, how do you identify as, right?
Because if I’m somebody who I don’t eat seafood, then a documentary that’s focused on seafood and fishing. Does it impact me the same way as something that is really centered on your consumer choices and how to basically advocate for less plastic, um, in the supply chain. And so that’s where I felt like really motivated.
I’m like, yes, I can do something. Like, I feel like there is, um, control within me to change the system. But, um, yeah, I mean, Overall, just having documentaries like that, allow people to ask questions and to want to know more. And I, and I think it’s really up to the person watching the documentary to also be open to receiving additional information.
Right. So if you’re seeing something in the documentary and you don’t see any, you know, research beans decided maybe look into that because there could be a lot of just things being left out. Um, that could be detrimental to how you approach the situation, because if you were, for example, to go and talk to your city council about getting a plastics ordinance passed and you know, like let’s get plastics off of, um, out of to go where or what.
And you don’t have like the data or the, the research to say, like, here’s the actual impact then? I mean, thank you for sharing your thoughts during the two minute presentation, that’s open for public comment, but, um, but you really need to do your research and you need to have that information available and you know, is ever evolving and there’s new research coming out every.
Almost every few months. So keeping up with that, if that’s something that you’re super passionate about, I think is really important so that you know, what the current status of things are, and you can really speak based off of, you know, the science and research. Yeah.
Mason: And it can be hard cause there’s a lot of research out there funded by all kinds of different people.
And it’s one of the things we hope to bring. Um, with mostly green, I have an engineering background and so just have a long history of digging into scientific papers and you know, one of them that I’ve found. Interesting recently, I saw this article that all of a sudden we realized there’s 10 X more biomass in the ocean than we thought.
And it was based on this 2014 where I think it was mostly sonar, but they did other kinds of deep ocean measurement. And they noticed below a hundred meters between a a hundred meters and a thousand meters. There was just a lot more down there than we previously thought. And. People are hailing it. And I very much want to be on the positive side of the environment.
And let’s focus on people like Monterey bay aquarium who are out there doing the work and doing good things. And so I always hate to be to voice skepticism about it, but. It was like the, the biomass down there. It’s not the same as a biomass from zero to a hundred meters. And so we, our fish stocks are down dramatically across the world of the fish that, you know, are part of the higher ecosystem.
So I was curious if you had seen that study, we’re familiar with it and
Claudia: what your thoughts were on it? I haven’t seen it. I mean, it sounds really interesting and it just makes me kind of want to know more, what exactly did they find a news? It. You know, what species are they finding? Is it, is it fish? Is it, um, are they invertebrates?
Like what could, and also what could be contributing to that? And when did those trends start to happen? And, um, you know, what is the. What is also the, um, the changes in the environment that happened in that area? Um, or was it like the whole ocean or like a particular basically? Yeah,
Mason: so they actually went around the globe.
And so there were like, they spent a week in the Indian ocean a couple of weeks in the Pacific. So they took a boat and basically they sailed around the world taking these measurements the whole time as they were going. And, but all it showed was. Um, and so there’s, it’s like, you don’t actually know that that’s fish, it might be plastic down there, but you know, it made me want to learn more.
And so I tried to read the paper and was like, they’re just it’s. Um, it was, it almost felt like clickbait.
Claudia: Yes. Studies like that. Yes. Mason, totally studies like that are definitely like really dangerous because you have these questions and then you want to know, well, what exactly did you find? And so, yeah, like I said, And so were there particular species that were there where the invertebrates with the fish, was it plastic?
Um, and I would just, I would say like, if you’re finding a higher concentration of biomass deeper, then could it be because the more surface water is warmer and so you’re the, you know, those hopefully species and not plastic are. I’m trying to go to cooler waters where there’s more nutrient rich waters and maybe even an opportunity for better survival.
So, you know, questions, questions. Yeah. So, um, yeah, I just would have so many more questions and that’s when I think it’s really interesting to set alerts for certain studies or certain, um, You know, authors of papers to find out if they’ve continued that work, because if they did something and they found some really interesting results of their research, then they’re going to want to publish that.
But then the question is, so will you continue that research and will you continue to inform the scientific community and even just, you know, the community in general, about what you’re finding, because otherwise. It’s really easy to just go on your day. And like, I don’t have to think about this, which is true.
You don’t have to, but if you are somebody who really wants to know more, um, it’d be great to know where you can get that information, right. And sometimes go into the store. Advocating for more science in the news is, is a good way to go about that is a great
Mason: tip to set an alert and see what they continue to do.
One of the things I remember I did when I saw this study was Googled the authors of the study and what else they were published to try to understand who they are working with and what they’re interested in and whether this was some weird. You know, one-off study or is that the source of their career work, which then makes it more credible
Claudia: to me?
Yeah, totally for sure.
Jess: So we’d also love to talk about some initiatives and projects that Monterey bay aquarium has put on. Um, and I know that you’ve helped teach, develop and lead a lot of these events. Um, so one that we found particularly interesting was. Ocean plastic solution summit. Um, so we’re wanting to hear more about that and some of the motivation behind creating this.
Claudia: Yeah. So, um, the ocean plastic pollution summit is a program that is you’re headed by the education division. So those are the folks who do the hell, all that great work of teaching kiddos and, um, teachers and whatnot. And the summit started a few years back. Um, And I think what ended up happening was there was a lot of that, you know, buzz around plastics and plastics being everywhere.
So I think this was right before the, the real. Like tidal wave of plastic that you started to, to hear about in the ocean. Um, and teachers were also bringing up these questions to the education staff and asking like, well, you know, I I’m noticing a lot of plastics and on the, on the school playground and things like that, like what can we do?
And so at that time, um, the education division already had a, um, not a project, but a program for teachers. About project-based learning. And the philosophy with that is, well, if you want to conduct a project conducted in a place that is accessible to you. So instead of, oh, well the tigers in, um, Asia are in decline.
We should do a project on that. Well, all your students going to go to Asia and really do something there and advocate for their protection. Um, and, and I think it also make it closer to home, make it closer to home. You get that investment and then you can also come up with more community-based solutions.
And so the project based, um, project B science program kind of. In the evolution of the ocean, plastic pollution summit. And so the summit, um, alternates every other year. And it’s for teachers who are, um, in middle school and in high school and they learn about plastics and the issue around plastics in the ocean and not just the ocean, but in their community as well.
They hear from experts. Um, researchers. People who are doing a lot of work to combat, um, the plastic pollution problem. And then they kind of take all of that information and bring it back to their school and their community and their students. And they kind of teach their students about the issue. And then the students are the ones who say, can we create a project about this?
So it’s really driven by the students, which I think is super cool. And, um, the. Um, OTPs, if you’re, if you were cool, I want to use the acronym. Um, LBPs is, is open to all teachers. So there’ve been teachers from as far down as San Diego to Reno, Nevada, and, um,
Mason: they can find out more just on the Monterey bay aquarium.
Claudia: They can. Yeah. If you go to, you know, the information for educators, you can get the information there and, and what’s. Those programs, um, is that they’re all complimentary, so you don’t have to pay to participate in those programs. And just like with our field trip programs, um, you know, which are on pause, but are happening virtually, um, that’s all free.
So we’re not ocean gatekeepers at the aquarium, um, which can be tricky, you know, as a nonprofit, but, um, it is really important to ensure that everybody has access to that information. Since our mission is to inspire conservation of the ocean and, you know, inspiring that should not come with any barriers or any access issues.
Jess: Yeah. When I read about that summit, I was like, I want to send this link to all the schools in our community and we’re in Austin, Texas. And so, you know, we’re landlocked, but we. Water around us. And it’s an entirely environmental, environmental aware community. I didn’t want to go too far and start sending it out to every school around us, but it’s a really
Claudia: cool program.
Yeah. And I mean, there’s lots of really great things that can happen in that area, you know, just because. There isn’t the direct ocean, like right there, just a few miles away, you still have bodies of water and all of that gets impacted as well. And, um, and just even in the community, right? Like having all of that plastic in the community and wanting to know, well, who’s picking it up.
And where did it come from and what are the sources of that? And just knowing more kind of like when we were talking about with sustainable seafood, just knowing more, um, I think it gives you the opportunity to find a solution to the problem.
Mason: Very cool. We also, it, um, it seems that Monterey bay aquarium was, uh, one of the instigators for the plastic straw campaign.
Um, so I’d love to hear a little bit more about why y’all chose, um, straws. And of course, you know, the outcome was, I mean, probably, I don’t know if y’all have been able to quantify the reduction in plastic straws, but everywhere we go, we now make sure to even just look at whether or not it is. As, you know, some people say that straws are a very small piece of the problem, but the awareness that it brings about to me, I feel like was the real goal of the
Yeah. Um, so the straws on request bill that got passed a few years ago and the aquarium definitely was in support of the bill. And, you know, I think one of the things. Makes me really proud of that bill is that it wasn’t just a blanket. Strawser bad, Strawser evil. Let’s get rid of them. But more of a here’s what we know is happening with straws.
They can’t be recycled. A lot of them end up in the trash. So that’s, you know, impacting our landfills. And when you see them in the community, when you, right, when you see them kind of littered about. It’s really easy for them to get littered about because they’re so light right there. There’s very light plastic.
And so what can we do to ensure that that particular type of plastic doesn’t find its way into the environment and especially the ocean environment. And I think this was right around the time where that viral video came out, the port turtle and things like that. And I think that was very impactful for people, but the reality is.
Plastics that are already very fragile like that, or very light is that just like every plastic they don’t break down. Right. So they’re not going to break down the same way that like a paper towel is going to break down into these small pieces. That’ll eventually kind of, they won’t add any nutrition to the, to the soil, but they’ll break down entirely and plastics don’t do that.
Plus. Um, photodegrade so because of UVA UVB light, they will just get drier and more brittle and they’ll become smaller and smaller pieces. And that’s how you get microplastics. So the fact that this very pervasive problem of straws were making its way into the ocean, creating microplastics and impacting, you know, the food web.
And in some cases, you know, the. Way in which people, um, recreate, like, you’re not going to want to go to the lake or the beach if you have like straws around you. Um, but the part that I thought was really great in the approach, it wasn’t sure. We weren’t taking anything away from anybody who needs straws.
So people in the disability community depend on straws or people who can’t, you know, just use a reusable straw or a glass straw or a stainless steel straw. Like it’s very unhealthy for them. It’s unsafe for them. And so that’s why the straws on request bill was so important was because it wasn’t just.
Well, here’s what we can do for the environment, but here’s what we can do for the environment and for people. And we’re not going to take anything away, but we’re going to ensure that if you are able to drink without a straw or bring your own straw in some cases, which I can like, um, then we’re leaving straws just for people who need it.
And that kind of goes back to also with the seafood, right? Like if you need to eat it or you can reduce your consumption of seafood or you can eat, you know, what’s local and. What’s necessary for people who depend on that as a main source of protein, then let’s do that. So, yeah, that was, I think one of the really great achievements about the straws on request.
Mason: By the time it made it to Texas, the signs in restaurants just said, save a turtle. Don’t use a straw. Yeah. It was like, well, it’s still, it was effective. And there’s a lot less plastic straws and even Texas, which is not, um, you know, not very close ideologically to California and a lot of, in a lot of areas, Austin, very much so a lot of people from California are coming to Austin.
Uh, But that’s really cool. The, and so talking about microplastics, uh, I saw recently that they had found microplastics in the blood of an in utero child and we don’t, we, as far as I know, we’ve really. I don’t know yet the impact this is going to have on our health. Um, we’re seeing what it’s doing to the environment.
Um, can you expand on that some and, and what you know about microplastics and if Monterey bay aquarium is doing any campaign? Um,
Claudia: yeah, well, I haven’t heard of that study. Um, but that sounds really. Gosh, just heartbreaking, right. To, I mean, ultimately plastics, um, you know, single use disposable plastics are an issue.
And if you’ve seen, you know, other documentaries or have you done research about the impacts of, um, plastics leaching into, you know, your system and things like that, that’s, that’s a whole nother ball game, but plastics in general, um, Are just really tricky because you find plastic everywhere. It’s, it’s in a lot of our products, it’s in our packaging.
And so our way of life. Yeah, because it’s been built that way. Right. And especially the convenience factor of things. Right. If I want to go buy something because I’m not in the turn. 20th century in the 19 hundreds where I didn’t have refrigeration. And so I would go to the store and get what I needed just for that day.
Um, we don’t live in that kind of world anymore. And so plastics have allowed us to be more convenient. And, um, I think plastics have a lot for a lot of other things that, um, I’ve just impacted the environment. Right. So. Ultimately, I think that it’s what you do with the plastic at the end of its life.
Right? So, um, plastic doesn’t, it’s weird to say like the life cycle of plastic, because it’s not alive, but it affects living things. And so do you. Recycle it, can it be recycled in your area? Do you throw it in the trash because you don’t have the infrastructure in your community to recycle it? Um, those are just some questions that I think come up for me because my work that’s centered on zero waste at the aquarium or net zero waste is really tricky.
Like I wish I could say we don’t have any plastic in our operations, but that’s not true. We have to use it for our animal feed. So there is plastic coming into, into the aquarium, but how can we work with those distributors and say, do you have an alternative, can you like, will you have a take back program?
And the styrofoam that the fish is being caught? And can we give it back to you? And a lot of cases, you can ask those questions and find a solution. So in our restaurant, for example, um, we reached out to all of our vendors. You know, we get our produce from and said, if we give you a container, can you just put our produce in that container?
And we’ll reuse it and will that work? And they’re like, totally. So I think it’s in a lot of the relationship building that you make with people, um, and with companies on to finding solutions that are better, but in terms of, you know, health impacts and the impacts that it’s having in the environment, um, there’s still a lot of research.
Hasn’t been done because plastics are still relatively new. And the end result of plastics is still very unknown and people still don’t know like the actual lasting, um, impacts of plastic in terms of. W how it breaks down and how long they exist in the environment. So a lot of those numbers that we see are those years that we see like plastic bags, like 500 years to break down or whatever.
Um, I don’t know anybody who’s been around for 500 years and plastics haven’t been around for 500 years. So that’s all a guess. Right? So a lot of this is our best guess. Right. And so. The impact of that in the environment and on people is still being found out. And so I think that’s where studies like that, or research like that, where you hear it, um, really impacting human health is going to sound shocking and it’s going to be pretty devastating and surprising because.
It’s all new. And so we don’t, we don’t even know, um, what the impacts of plastics are. So yeah.
Mason: That’s a really, um, I appreciate your perspective on all of this and your, you know, kinda maintained curiosity around it. Um, and, and not, not, uh, contributing to the. Uh, views out there. Cause it is, you know, things like that seems scary, but you’re right.
We don’t, I mean, we do know some plastics interact with hormones in a way that was very damaging to the body. But, um, you know, somebody, these plastics are relatively a nerd, um, in terms of how they interact with biological systems. And so then it really is just like the build up of, um, and, and we don’t know, they can do, I mean, we come from the food industry and you have like, it’s called accelerated environmental.
Where, you know, the, as if you know that chemical, chemical, and environmental processes, by which something breaks down, you can do certain things to accelerate that. And they’d be able to make an educated guess that it’s going to last 500 years, because you expose it to much more intense environment than what is normal.
And then you extrapolate out that information.
Claudia: Um, well, you know, what I think is interesting about that too, is from the world you come from right with, with food. Yeah, you want to have the packaging available to have your product, the freshest as possible. But if we know that plastic can last a very long time, like your product cycle lasts that long, like a hundred years.
Right. And so, um, just going back to the question that you had asked were, you know, like, is there, is there anything that we’re campaigning for, like right now in the state of California we’re campaigning for, um, A set of bills that would put more in the consumer’s hands when it comes to, um,
sorry, I’m having trouble with the connection. Please try it.
Jess: That was Siri on a question, I suppose. It’s hilarious.
Claudia: Um, but, um, yeah, there’s a set of bills, um, that we’re hoping. Moves its way forward to put choice in the consumer’s hands. And so when you, for example, get it to go order, um, you wouldn’t just automatically be given a bunch of condiment packets.
Um, you would actually have to ask for them and you wouldn’t just be automatically given a lot of plastic cutlery, like you would have to ask for it. And so it would change the way in which businesses operate. But I think the fact that we had a plastic bag ban in California years back just prove that.
It takes time. So if those bills were to be adopted and they were to get passed, it’s going to take time. There will be some pain points for people, but I think it’s just the way that we have to be more responsible as consumers and to be given a choice as consumers, if we know the impacts of certain products or, you know, in this case, plastics.
And how they’re impacting our environment, what we see in our community, when you go and like, just walk around, do you see a lot of plastics on the street? So if you can help alleviate that and you can recognize within yourself, like, yeah, that’s a problem. I kind of don’t want that in my community anymore.
Or how it’s impacting other communities who might be living near, um, incinerators. And those health impacts. They’re like, it’s not really equitable. Like plastics just aren’t equitable. Yeah. That’s, that’s another part of it too. Right? It’s like, you just have an opportunity to demand that change if you know more about what you can ask
Yeah. Yeah. And I always like to, um, encourage the advocacy and. The restaurant doesn’t give you the choice. I like, I always ask, can you, do you have this? And then they ask their manager and then they come back and be like, no, we don’t have. You know, non-plastic straws, paper straws, or whatever, but then more people were ask that question, you know?
Cause a lot of the, especially when it comes to, um, single use plastics, um, there are some options that are becoming very economically viable for, um, restaurants and such to use as an alternative with the different plant fibers and how good they’re getting at those. I think it’s a, it’s a wonderful time to, as a consumer to be out there demanding these things because it is, it might be.
You know, 0.4 pennies, more expensive for the restaurant to give you a plant fiber fork instead of a single use plastic fork. Um, and, and that’s better. It’s still not perfect because some of those are processed in a way that then they, you know, it’s still takes them 50 years instead of 500 years break down, but it’s better, you know, baby steps is kind of the, as the name of the game.
Claudia: Totally. Yeah. And, you know, I think just. Again, as the consumer, if I’m going to go somewhere and I’m going to get like last week, for example, met up with some friends and went to this place I’d never been to. And I saw that they make like fresh fruit smoothies. And like, I’ll say he bowls, I’m like, I’m gonna bring my bowl just in case.
And I was like, oh, saying you want up, put up on my lucky. And she’s like, I see. And I was like, great. Yes, fill up my bowl. That’s wonderful. And I had my, um, My spoon with me. Right. And so like, easy, I’m going to bring it just in case. And I’m going to ask, right. It doesn’t hurt to ask the worst they can say is no, but if they did offer a compostable option, then I would want to know.
And luckily I live here, so I know, but I would want to know, can you actually compost this in your area? Because some types of, you know, quote unquote, bioplastic. Only break down in certain conditions. And so do they have an anaerobic digester where those, you know, bio-plastics will break down or is it essentially like a scaled up version of your ho home compost system where it might not break down and your napkins and the, you know, sugar cane bowls will break down, but maybe that bioplastic fork or cup won’t break down.
That’s not really getting totally at the solution. So what could other solutions be and what are some of the environmental, um, restrictions in those communities? Like if we just had reusable everything, that’d be wonderful, but in California, which everybody knows we’re in a drought. So we have to be really careful about the water that we’re using.
Right. So is that a viable option? Maybe? Maybe not, but if I’m allowed to bring my own reusable. I was going to use that anyway. Yeah. I have it at home. Right. So just let me bring it. Yeah, right.
Mason: Yeah. Well, um, we’re about at it. We actually, we’ve got a big series coming up on recycling and we really want to dig in and especially.
Articles about, you know, right now I believe on like 9% of plastic in America is being recycled. So, um, you know, what are the alternatives, the options, and then how do we as consumers, um, get at that, but it has been absolutely wonderful, uh, talking to you, um, love what the aquarium is doing, love, what you are doing.
Thank you so much for the work that you do. Um, is there anything else that you. Uh, I guess anything we didn’t cover.
Claudia: Yeah. Um, just quickly on that 9% stat. So it’s 9% of all plastic that has ever been made has been recycled, but the 9% also surprisingly shows that that’s the rate at which current plastic is also being recycled.
So historically only 9% currently, also. What why interesting. And we conducted a waste audit, uh, at the beginning of 2020 last year. Same number, only 9% of the recycling, um, was a plastics of our plastic. Recycling is able to get recycled. We recycle like 40 some odd percent of things, but only 9% of what we produce that is plastic was able to get recycled.
Mason: It goes to the recycling supply chain, but then ends up in a landfill. Is that the implication there? Um,
Claudia: unfortunately, unless that there’s a commodity for it, but yeah, really interesting. Wow. I know. Right. Um, but yeah, like I said, um, Yeah. Be really curious and ask questions and try to find more information and look to see who’s putting out that information.
And, um, I would say like when in doubt, maybe put up like take a pause and wait and think like, do I really need to do this? Is there like, do I need to purchase this thing? Or do I have something that I can use already? Um, Do I need to eat the shrimp, you know, can I eat something else or is there a plant-based option for me?
And like, you know, can I go a little bit more plant-based on some occasions. So, yeah, I think just, um, we have the luxury of choice in our, in our, um, in our country. So think about some of the choices that aren’t just good for you, but, um, good for your community. Good for the environment and act on.
Mason: Wonderful. And that’s such a perfect segue cause we are, we are creating mostly green for what we call the eco curious. We, and we love the curiosity. And, uh, thanks again for joining us.
Jess: Thank you so much. Thanks.