Plastic litter found during Fort McHenry Field Day.
Plastic litter found during Fort McHenry Field Day. (Handout / Theresa Keil, National Aquarium Event Photographer)

Citing a growing threat to marine life, the National Aquarium in Baltimore and others across the country launched a campaign Monday against disposable plastic products, and vowed to "significantly reduce or eliminate" single-use plastic bottles at their facilities by 2020.

The new Aquarium Conservation Partnership, a coalition of 19 public aquariums in 16 states, will highlight the 8.8 million tons of plastic pollution — roughly a dump truck's worth per minute — that enters the ocean per year worldwide, officials said.


The partnership's "In Our Hands" campaign will ask the 20 million annual aquarium visitors nationwide to consider using alternatives to disposable plastic bottles, bags and other products. The aquariums have already removed plastic straws and disposable plastic bags from their restaurants and gift shops.

With an audience interested in aquatic life and conservation, aquariums are perfectly positioned to take on such a challenge, National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli said in a statement.

"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," Racanelli said.

The aquariums will work with business partners to showcase alternatives to disposable plastic and with vendors to "accelerate design of new products and materials," the group said.

The coalition will also lobby for governmental policies on local, state and federal levels that reduce plastic pollution in oceans, rivers and lakes. Many sponsor local clean-up events and education programs and have been successful in advocating against plastic shopping bags and microbeads in personal care products.

In addition to the National Aquarium, the partnership includes aquarium facilities in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington state.

The National Aquarium, the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif., and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago are leading the charge.

"The public trusts aquariums to do what's right for the health of the ocean and for ocean wildlife," Monterey Bay Aquarium executive director Julie Packard said in a statement. "We're just beginning to understand the full impacts of ocean plastic pollution on ecosystems, marine life and human health. But we already know enough to say that now is the time to act."

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