Bless the bay


Calling state parks “shabby and overused,” our waters “diverted, polluted and winnowed away” and our coastline “disappearing,” the Hon. Mary Nichols, secretary for resources for the California Resources Agency, lauded efforts of local environmental groups but warned that the public must be part of the stewardship.

Nichols spoke at a fund-raiser for Santa Monica BayKeeper, a community based, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to restoring the quality of Santa Monica Bay. The Beach Ball, held Saturday evening at the home of David Foster and Linda Thompson, honored Nichols with its Founder Award.

“After 12 years of serious and profound neglect and despite the very good work of many organizations,” Nichols said, “the combination of political indifference and economic hard times has left our state in a less good condition, frankly, than it was when I moved here in 1971 …

“We have made many strides in the areas that we’ve been able to push with technology and when we’ve been able to enforce the law. But in the most basic ways of all, which relate to our land and our water, we have not shown the kind of stewardship as a society that we need to.”

She warned, “Every day, as we watch it, the coast is disappearing, bit by bit … not only because of the conditions of nature but because of the things we as a society are doing to it.

“We dammed up the rivers that bring sand to the beaches. We have put barriers in front of those beaches in ways that cause the sand to erode. We move it around in ways that make it impossible for it to be replenished.”

According to Nichols, within the next decade, beaches will disappear as a result of anticipated severe storms. “We see more extreme weather conditions coming about as a result of misuse of energy, overuse of petroleum and the [substances] we’re filling our air with.”

As guests were arriving, Ladan Mahajerani, BayKeeper biologist, noted she was out of her wetsuit and very dressed up. At work, she said, she “patrols regularly, looking for polluters.” She and the organization’s volunteers “sample storm-drain runoff and watch for illegal dumping.”

One of BayKeeper’s projects sends skimmer boats to clean trash out of the bay. “There’s an insane amount of garbage we collect out there,” said Mahajerani.

Aboard what she calls her office boat, she heads a “kelp project,” monitoring and restoring local kelp beds. “Local dive groups adopt a kelp bed,” she said, “and watch for changes in status.”

Other guests included Dominic Gregorio, marine biologist with the Southern California Marine Institute, who believes the biggest challenge to environmental conservation is urban runoff. “It’s really not controlled yet,” he said.

He was catching up on environmental news with Dr. Wheeler North. “They used to call me Mr. Kelp,” said North.

North worked at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in the late 1950s. The institute had received a grant to study kelp. “I was the only Ph.D. who knew how to dive, so they hired me, even though I didn’t know anything about kelp,” he recalled.

Kelp was, and still is, an indicator of ocean health. “It’s essentially an underwater forest,” Wheeler explained. “It provides a laboratory for a lot of species.

“At the time, kelp beds near large cities were beginning to disappear. We wanted to know why. Was it pollution? Harvesting? It turned out the biggest problem was the sea urchins, which were out of control because we were killing their predators.

“So I got a lot of hammers and we got a lot of students and we went out there bopping sea urchins.”

North has now retired and is “trying to write up all the data I’ve collected over the years.”

The evening began with a blessing by Mati Waya, ceremonial leader of the Chumash Turtle Clan.

“We worked for so many years protecting, preserving this area.” Waya said. “It’s the place where the Chumash people for 15,000 or 20,000 years have made their home. And now you have your home here. We share the land ….

“We have a lot of work to do, and we should be so grateful for the organizations that have dedicated their time and their effort and their energy to promote and protect what belongs to the children that aren’t born yet. That’s why we’re here. You have your dead buried on this land, and you have a responsibility just like us.”

Waya lit incense and blessed the event with a song.