Having spent part of the day today at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I’m thinking a lot about the many delicate, fragile, gorgeous creatures I saw and how precarious their survival is.
Some of my favorite sea animals on display at the aquarium are the two big octopus, the many tanks of jellyfish, the green sea turtles, and of course, the amazing variety of seahorses. For me, just watching these animals swimming in their tanks and doing their beautiful movements, having evolved in so many incredibly diverse and fantastic ways, brought it home for me.
I think of the ocean as a giant womb, full of all of the elements for life, everything in balance, allowing for the delicacy of a jellyfish and the massiveness of a blue whale, and I’m pained to think about how much we’ve done to harm it.
Going to any natural history museum these days is a lesson in how we’re ruining the planet; the Monterey Bay Aquarium is no exception, in fact their mission is to educate the public on sustainability. Today I watched aquarium employees using puppets made from recycled materials and singing about team work as the way to solve the earth’s problems; recordings of artists who are using various media to make the plight of the ocean’s creatures more personal; and entire interactive exhibits showing the many ways we can take responsibility and have less of an impact on the ocean.
The aquarium educates people across the country with its Seafood Watch Sustainable Food Guide, which you may have picked up at your local fish market. One can also download a free app for the iPhone or Android. They now publish them for most of the regions of the U.S. and also print a Sustainable Sushi Guide. These are small folded cards that can easily fit in a wallet and are edited twice yearly to reflect the current state of our fisheries and tell us what fish are best to eat and which should be avoided. As one of the docents explained to me today as I picked up a new one, it’s often not so much about the type of fish; it’s also about whether it was caught or farmed sustainably, and sometimes, where it was shipped from.
I learned more about how unsustainable the sushi industry is when my family was looking for a place to celebrate my mother’s birthday last month in Santa Cruz. We were leafing through a local free paper, the Santa Cruz Weekly, and saw a review of a new restaurant called Geisha Sushi in Capitola. One of the objectives of the owner is to only provide sustainably raised or caught fish for the restaurant. He does not serve three of the most popular types of fish: Unagi, made from freshwater eel; Toro, the fatty underbelly of Bluefin tuna; or Hamachi, which is yellowtail tuna that is usually netted, because they are all overfished and endangered. Even though it is difficult as a sushi restaurant not to offer these favored dishes, the chef has found ways to get around this. He serves “Onagi,” which is locally caught catfish made with the same sauce as Unagi, and line caught yellowtail tuna, and the local’s favorite, sardines, which he brines and sprinkles with vinegar. We had a wonderful meal there and I will say felt much more informed and responsible. Since then we’ve eaten sushi a couple of times at less conscious restaurants - we just order the fish we know is sustainable.