Here’s the story behind those snarky BART ads demanding that you save the planet

Taking public transit isn’t the most inspiring experience. Most discussion prompted by any given commute usually involves delayed trains, crowded cars, and dirty conditions. A BART station is the last place one would expect to leave feeling inspired.

So what does it take to jolt commuters out of their daily humdrum and stop them in their tracks? Maybe it’s an angry sea otter shaming you for using a plastic fork.

At several BART stations lately, riders are greeted by a series of climate-conscious posters produced by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the summer. These ads feature images of adorable sea creatures with snappy, albeit sobering, messaging about the current, dismal state of the environment, especially in our oceans.

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Some posters are light-hearted. In one, a school of fish swims fluidly as a single, uniform mass, and the text accompanying the photo reads, “As you might expect, sardines are big fans of mass transit.”

Other posters are more pointed, calling out individual actions — like consuming meat or using single-use plastics — that can contribute to climate change.

“Ironically, this shark would like you to eat less meat,” chides one advertisement.

“Does a sea turtle care if you use a straw?” asks another.

Mimi Hahn, chief marketing officer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, explained the thinking behind the ads.

“In the past couple years, we have shifted the messaging for our ad campaigns from visiting the Monterey Aquarium to focusing on conservation,” said Hahn.

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The ad campaign was designed specifically with San Francisco residents in mind.

“Overall, Bay Area people are environmentally conscious, so it’s great that we can have some fun with these very serious messages,” Hahn said in a phone interview.

The ads straddle the line between cute and concerned. If a jellyfish, paired with the text, “This jelly has no brain and even it knows our ocean is in trouble,” doesn’t simultaneously make you go “aw” while inducing a mini eco-anxiety attack — and inspire you into action — then what will?

Despite the cheeky text, Hahn said that the Monterey Bay Aquarium wants to provide a positive outlook on a sometimes distressing topic. “We always want the tone to be hopeful, and people to know that they can make a difference,” she explained.

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By taking BART, commuters are already taking a small step toward doing their part.

“We’re trying to encourage people to take public transit and get out of their single-occupant vehicles,” Hahn said. “Mass transit is good for the planet.”

The posters appeared at the 24th Street BART station for the month of July. You can view them now at the Civic Center BART station until Labor Day. Maybe once you see them, you too will be left thinking about where the future of the planet is headed, long after your commute ends.

Nikki Tran is an SFGATE intern. Email:

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