Be a conservation leader in your home, community, and the world! Everyone can do something! Here are some ideas:
The Zoo has been recycling since the 1990’s. Recycling bins are in all of the public areas of the Zoo and behind the scenes. Recently, we set up a recycling program in a local school as part of a science learning project. In addition to recycling plastic, glass, paper, cardboard, aluminum cans and fluorescent light bulbs, our Maintenance Department recycles construction pallets and scrap metal whenever possible.
With more than 1,200 animals, recycling and waste management take on an entirely new meaning. We use non-toxic plant trimmings from our landscaping as food for our animals and we have a small composting pile for on-site gardening. For more than 20 years, the Zoo has collaborated with a local organic farm to recycle animal fecal waste as fertilizer. Sweetwater Farm is also an educational outlet that shares our conservation mission.
What’s the problem with seafood?
With 90% of fisheries fully fished or in decline, we can help our oceans by choosing sustainably harvested seafood. That means purchasing from commercial fisheries that harvest fish in ways that protect the ocean and the environment. That ensures there will be fish for future generations.
Overfishing happens when fish are caught at a rate that is faster than the rate at which they can reproduce. For instance, red snapper is a very popular seafood choice. This fish has a life span of up to 60 years but it does not start reproducing until its teens. When red snapper are caught before they are old enough to reproduce, that leaves fewer fish to reproduce, making it harder for the population to recover. Technology is making fishing more efficient and the demand for red snapper and all seafood is increasing. With under-producing and over-fishing, the population of this fish, and many others, is declining.
How fish are harvested matters, too!
For example, shrimp can be wild caught or farm raised. Shrimping that uses traps does not cause many problems for other sea life. In contrast, bottom trawling for shrimp uses big nets dragged on the ocean floor that accidentally catch other sea life, called bycatch. With no commercial value, bycatch is just thrown away. For each pound of shrimp harvested by bottom trawling, four to five pounds of bycatch is wasted, which can result in devastating drops in populations of important species.
Shrimp are also farmed in human-made ponds located near bodies of water. In an open pond system, farmers pump in clean water and flush out dirty water into nearby natural waterways. Unfortunately, that dirty water contains fertilizer, antibiotics, and shrimp wastes that pollute the waterways. However, in a closed pond system, shrimp farmers use a settlement pond to naturally filter the water before it returns to the environment.
One of the most popular fish in the world is salmon. Like shrimp, salmon can be farm-raised or wild-caught. Salmon farmed in closed systems are a good choice, but salmon is also farmed using net pens that are placed in open water. While the nets keep the fish inside the pens, they don’t prevent the wastes, disease, antibiotics, or parasites from being passed through the water to wild fish. It might seem surprising, but Alaskan wild caught salmon is one of the most sustainable seafood choices.
Your seafood choices are important!
How can you tell whether seafood has been sustainably harvested? The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that minimize the impact on sea life and habitats, now and for future generations. They recommend seafood items that are “Best Choices” or “Good Alternatives,” and which ones consumers should “Avoid.”
The Zoo is a Seafood Watch partner. As part of our commitment to sustainable seafood, we encourage you to check out the Seafood Watch website, and a printable pdf of the Southeast Consumer Guide. You can access their mobile app for iOS and Android here.
Have you heard of palm oil?
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of the African oil palm tree. It easily blends with other ingredients, acts as a preservative, and is tasteless. Palm oil is used for cooking, and is added to many products like soaps, cosmetics, ice cream, cookies, chocolate, and frozen meals. About half of all packaged goods sold in US or European grocery stores contain palm oil.
The problem with palm oil is that the tree that produces it can only grow in the same wet, low-lying areas as tropical rainforests. Sometimes called the “lungs of the Earth,” rainforests are important to the environment because they take in large amounts of carbon dioxide and convert it to the oxygen we breathe. They also help prevent soil erosion, store water, and are hot spots for biodiversity. Indonesia and Malaysia produce the most palm oil. Those two countries, plus nearby China and India, are home to over half of the Earth’s animal species. Clearing rainforests to grow palm oil trees destroys critical habitat and has pushed some animals to the brink of extinction.
Your purchasing decisions matter!
The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is an international effort to promote sustainably grown palm oil. Instead of boycotting palm oil, the RSPO created product-labeling guidelines based on strict environmental, social and economic standards to help consumers know when a product contains palm oil that was sustainably grown and did not rely on clearing new forests. Many companies have switched to using certified sustainable palm oil in their products. When we choose to buy their products instead of products from companies that use unsustainably grown palm oil, we encourage other companies to switch as well.
Not only do many everyday products contain palm oil, sometimes it is listed under a completely different name on the ingredients label. As consumers, we can use our buying power to encourage companies to use only sustainable palm oil. To help us buy wisely, two AZA-accredited zoos have designed mobile apps to help us buy wisely.