The Benthic Lab in Antarctica

By John Oliver and Stacy Kim (25 January 2016)

Diver and ice hole.

John Oliver: The MLML Antarctic programs started in 1974, when Paul Dayton at SIO (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) invited me to join his benthic research group at McMurdo Station. I had a great advantage over all my peers, because I was two people. Pete Slattery and I have been partners since 1970, and he worked on every research project I ever did. After working with Dan Watson and Crazy Ed O’Connor, Paul wanted more MLML folk. Unless indicated otherwise, everyone I mention was a student or staff at MLML. Pete Slattery, Jim Barry, Larry Hulberg, Don Canestro, John Boland (SIO) and my first wife Donna went to the ice with Paul, and Jim Barry became one of Paul’s students. Donna did her PhD on the effects of isolation in the Antarctic winter. Dan, Larry, and later Steve Laslie became the NSF Biolab Managers at McMurdo Station, and Ed Osada helped Art Devries capture Antarctic cod.

John Oliver under the ice.

In 1982, Pete, Jim Oakden and I became life-long partners in the Benthic Lab and in 1983 Rikk Kvitek, Mark Silberstein and I returned to the ice in my first visit without Paul. In 1988, Pete and I returned with Stacy Kim and Jim Oakden and started a program that lasted into the mid 90’s, comparing benthic community responses to natural and anthropogenic disturbances. Later Hunter Lenihan managed this program, while Stacy was at Woods Hole. Brenda Konar, Dan Bockus, Jo Guerrero, Kirsten Carlson, Carrie Bretz, Diane Carney, and Ian Tamblyn (Canadian artist) were on and under the ice. And then Linda Kuhnz, Dan Malone, and Kamille Hammerstrom our lab managers followed and we’re into the Stacy Kim epoch. Before that, Rikk Kvitek and Kathy Conlan (Canadian Museum) and then Hunter Lenihan and Pete Peterson (UNC) got NSF grants to explore the pollution gradient at McMurdo Station, and wonderfully involved the Benthic Lab. All of this and much more happened because Paul Dayton provided the portal and discovered the gold mine of human resources at MLML. I’ve been digging in that mine for 45 years!


Stacy Kim: In 1988 I was a graduate student in the Benthic Lab, working with John Oliver. One day, out of the blue, he said, “Would you like to go to Antarctica?” It took me no time to say yes. We were to leave shortly, as NSF was under pressure from Greenpeace to do something about the contamination from the largest US base in Antarctica, McMurdo Station. Oliver was an expert on the seafloor communities in McMurdo Sound, having completed his thesis on the topic working with Paul Dayton at Scripps (link to paper).

Oliver and John Heine worked with me to prepare for diving under a fast ice ceiling. But the ancient gear they were still using for Antarctic diving – double hose regulators – simply was not to be found in working condition in the US. So I had theoretical knowledge, but no practical training with the equipment. Fortunately, working with Oliver had given me plenty of drysuit diving experience in the Arctic, and he talked me through use of the old regs many times (as those of you who know him might be able to imagine).

Not surprisingly, I was THRILLED to get under the ice for the first time. But it was awfully hard to breathe, and after just a few minutes I signaled to Oliver I was having trouble and we ended the dive. He rolled his eyes but tested my regulator once we were back the surface and confirmed that it was not supposed to be THAT hard to breathe – it wasn’t just my unfamiliarity with the equipment – I had a faulty regulator! But what I remembered most was the feeling of flying – the visibility of 1000 ft let you see the bathymetry all around and get an overview of the distribution of animals and relationships to physical structure that we don’t get anywhere else. I was already hooked.

Ice clouds overhead, anchor ice below.
The diver in the distance behind the brine tubes under the ice demonstrates the incredible visibility of Antarctic waters.

We found a typically Oliverian (i.e. John Oliver) solution to the gear problems, and went on to map the extent of the seafloor contamination around McMurdo Station in that brief trip (link to paper). I graduated from MLML and went off and got a PhD doing deep sea research. But the Antarctic - and the unique scientific questions that can be addressed there because of its isolation - stayed in my mind.

Another Oliverian solution, this one to drilling holes in thick ice. From bottom to top, Peter, Stacy, and John.

By 1996 I had returned to MLML as an adjunct researcher, and from 1997 to 2004 worked on several projects to examine the variable and compounding impacts of different types of contamination and disturbance on Antarctic seafloor communities. Working with Hunter Lenihan, another MLML graduate, we established that organic contamination enhances polychaete populations, while chemical contamination decimates crustaceans (link to paper). On my first ever NSF grant we determined that recovery from organic contamination was occurring more rapidly than predicted, and that recovery from sediment disturbance was even more rapid, both surprising in an ecosystem where slow rates were the paradigm (, link to paper). Andrew Thurber became my first Antarctic graduate student, went on to get a PhD at Scripps and is now a professor at OSU (Oregon State University).

But diving can only get you so far. Most of the Antarctic seafloor remains completely unknown; it is too deep for divers and the ice prevents normal ship and ROV operations. The solution was to build our own ROV, specifically to work through ice, and SCINI was born (link to web page, link to paper). This primarily engineering project led to mapping of several previously unexplored areas, and provided data for MLML graduate students Clint Collins (recently defended!) and Dorota Szuta.

Clint Collins reflects deeply on diving in contaminated water near the station.

With Paul Dayton, we used SCINI to reach study sites he had set up before sensible rules on diving depth limitations were in place, and which consequently, were no longer accessible to divers (link to web page). Despite Oliver’s sudden departure due to kidney stones (and I thought he was faking it to get out of doing Happy Camper Survival School again), we learned that hexactinellid sponges, one of the foundation Antarctic species, grow far faster than previously recorded – though the growth is highly episodic (link to paper).

Most recently, we have been working on a food web study to examine the relative controls of primary production and top predator populations on community structure (link to web page). We developed and built FATTI to accompany SCINI, and give her sonar and fluorometry capabilities. Analysis is ongoing, but we are finding that the top predators have a much larger impact in this ecosystem than expected from other ecosystem studies, where humans are a more prevalent factor.

Our continuing work uses Antarctica as a test bed for extra-planetary missions. While working out the engineering bugs, we also have the opportunity to explore under ice shelves, areas of our planet that are previously unvisited. Stunning discoveries of life several hundred kilometers from their normal food source raise yet more mysteries (link to article) that will keep us busy for years to come!

MLML’s Phycologist Dr. Michael Graham interviews with Santa Cruz Sentinel about Aquaculture

Read an article on the potential of an aquaculture industry around the area!

Follow this link to learn more:

Moss Landing Marine Labs professor of marine ecology Michael Graham pulls up netting filled with sea lettuce covered by baby abalone in a nursery at the labs’ aquaculture facility on Wednesday. Photo by: David Royal - Monterey Herald

Open House

By Jim Harvey, Lynn Krasnow, Erica Burton, Greg Cailliet, Heather Fulton-Bennett, Ryan Manzer, Alex Olson, Melissa Nehmens, and Heather Kramp

Another picture of an early Open House with the marlin that was in the main building and displays of stuffed seabirds.
One of the first Open Houses. This was the tank area under the carport outside the old Beaudette Foundation building.

Since the inception of MLML, the students, faculty, and staff have sponsored an Open House. On 29 April 1967, one day after the dedication of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, 500 people showed up for the first MLML Open House. We have doing it every year since, no matter whether we had a real marine lab (the trailer years) or not. It is one of the great annual MLML traditions. Every year a student committee is formed, plans are devised for who will organize and cook the food, who will be responsible for parking, who will organize speakers or the bake sale, and a group of talented souls (or soles if it is about fish) start the process of developing the puppet show. Most everybody pitches in, and it shows. It truly is a MLML community event. It is remarkable that a research and teaching facility would open its doors so openly that almost all the spaces are on show. In recent years we have had 1,500 to 2,500 of the public attend Open House during a weekend.

The puppet show in the tent at Moss Landing, when the lab was in trailers in Salinas.

Jim Harvey (1978): Every year the Vertebrate Ecology Lab would put out skulls, skins, baleen, videos of research, posters, and some kid-friendly activity. Some of my favorite activities meant to teach something were: (1) an insulated glove so the kids could stick their hand in ice water and understand what blubber does for a seal or whale; (2) a rake used to collect plastic krill in a bucket so they could visualize how baleen works, or (3) a transmitter on a small dog running around through the building so the kids could practice radio-tracking. The Vert Lab during Open House was pretty much the same for many years until some kid I recognized from the previous year, took a spin through the lab and within a minute exclaimed: “It’s the same as last year”. I was ticked off, so the next year we made a humpback whale head through which you entered into the lab and into the belly of the whale with ribs, entrails, and all. Never saw the kid again.

Looking through the whale head into the Vert lab. The white material was cut off hula skirts and represented the baleen.

Lynn Krasnow (1978 ): I have my favorite memory from circa mid-1970s. Remember the holding tank outside the old lab? Divers loaded it up with all kinds of inverts and small fish and grabbed things to show people during open house. Monica Farris picked up an Aplysia (sea hare) to show my parents and of course it just sort of collapsed in a gelatinous heap on her hand. My mother said something like "ugh! what purpose does that have?" Monica: "What purpose do you have?" My mother (haughty voice): "I have two children!" And Monica scores the touchdown with "this has millions of children."

The cook crew in the old Moss Landing parking lot, when the main lab was in Salinas Trailers.
Who doesn't want to be a squid head?


Erica Burton (1999): During the ‘homeless’ years in the Salinas trailers, the thought of an Open House was daunting. “What do you mean we’re having an Open House? We have no House.” It didn’t stop the spirited faculty, staff, and students. As the saying goes, “If you build it, [they] will come.” Large tents were erected, electricity was plumbed, tables and chairs were hauled in, food was prepared in cold, dark, small spaces, exhibits were created, puppets were plumed, and They came. Open House during these years was not only an opportunity to showcase MLML science, but also an opportunity to garner community support for rebuilding the lab near its former location. Bumper stickers, pins, hats, and t-shirts were worn promoting the rebuilding of the lab. And we did.


Greg Cailliet (who knows): Well, I have been involved in so many open houses since I started at MLML in 1972 (even longer than Mike Foster, but not Bill Broenkow) that I cannot count them or recall a whole lot about them. But I do know that the students, staff and faculty work very hard to clean up the facilities and prepare the labs and classrooms with interesting and informative exhibits. The Ichthyology Lab has always been active and is known for years of fish printing for kids, fish identification exercises, and microscope set-ups involving feeding habit analysis, age and growth with bony fish otoliths and elasmobranch vertebrae, and reproduction studies of fishes. More recently, students in the Pacific Shark Research Center have been active displaying sharks and rays. In some years, we have been lucky enough to collect large fishes like Opah, Tuna, Louvar, Bat Ray, Leopard Shark, Spiny Dogfish, Angel Shark, Rattail, Chimaera`, and other interesting fishes – often they were kept on ice and even dissected to show the public morphological adaptations.

Greg Cailliet ready to be dunked.

I recall one Open House that we had at the shore, even though we were still in the Salinas Trailer Park facility, in which faculty volunteered to be the target in a dunk tank to raise money for the student body and lab in general. For those us who volunteered, it was quite a shock when those who were interested in dunking us (often students, but others from the faculty, staff and public also joined in) actually hit the spot which forced us to drop down into a cold tank of water. That was when my wet suit still actually fit! It was good, clean fun and even made a few needed bucks.

Mike Graham standing in the pseudo-kelp forest in the Phycology Lab.


Heather Fulton-Bennett (current student): While directing parking doesn't sound the most exciting, one of the best parts is flagging down residents and visitors to Moss Landing who otherwise had no idea about Moss Landing Marine Labs. It's great to get someone who may have been in town to fish, antique shop, or eat at Phil's to stop by and learn a little about us and marine science. The Phycology Lab's kelp forest displays fresh intertidal and subtidal seaweeds, allowing visitors to learn about intertidal zonation as well as the wide variety of products seaweeds are used in. One of the highlights for kids is the ice cream table, handed out along with the knowledge that most ice creams are full of seaweed extracts, and no one can taste it at all!


Ryan Manzer (current student): For the past open house my oceanography colleagues and I decided to go all out and some even constructed a mock up of the bow and stern of the recently departed Pt. Sur through which visitors would walk to get into the Oceanography classroom and our exhibits there.  For my part, I utilized the Matlab skills I had learned in the MLML Data Modeling class to develop a user interface that presented visitors with a bathymetric map of the Monterey Bay with locations of CTD casts highlighted in addition to a control panel and plotting frame for plotting data.

Users selected the location they were interested from a drop down menu and the variable of interest and clicked the "Start Cast" button.  I animated the plotting of the data so that it more accurately reflected what researchers see when making casts in real time.  The color schemes and interface style were modeled after the software actually used by the marine science tech on the Pt. Sur.  While it seemed a little silly to me when first presenting it, these plots and the questions they prompted from visitors gave a very clear picture of some of the research physical oceanographers do and how it can apply to others.

One of my favorite moments occurred when a sharp eyed visitor spotted an odd feature in the O2 and temperatures plots near the bottom at a couple sites near the canyon and asked us "what is going on there?".  After Jason and I puzzled over the plots and referenced some other sample locations we had to admit we didn't know.  After a few minutes speculation with the visitor wherein we all suggested potential drivers for the results the visitor left with a much better understanding of how and why we study the ocean.

Scott Gabara demonstrating how divers write underwater.


Alex Olson (current student): As a volunteer diver at MLML for Phycology students, I went to an Open House and discovered that there was so much more to this place than algae (Algae are still cool!). I never really thought there could have been so many niche areas of research under one roof. The do-it-yourself wandering tour around the labs inspired and stoked my curiosity. Fast forward to 2014. My first Open House as a student found me staging visitors for a tour of the Pt. Sur at the gate to the dock. While waiting for the next 15 min tour to start, my job was to answer any questions visitors might have and show off the exposure suits that we carried with us on research cruises. Also known as "Gumby" suits, these thick neoprene suits are designed to keep the inhabitant warm and dry whilst floating in the water and awaiting rescue after abandoning ship. It being a warm sunny day I didn't think about actually getting into the suit, but just refer to it in my spiel about the ship and how great MLML was. The suits were unfurled on the hot cement, arms out, almost like crime scene chalk drawings. Sure enough, someone in the first group asked how they exactly work and if I could demonstrate.

You know that guy who holds the door open for someone, but gets stuck standing there for everyone else filing through?

I was that guy....with a Gumby suit.

I kicked off my shoes, slid in legs first, and scooted on my butt until I got waist deep. Then I stood up, put my left arm in the sleeve, pulled on the hood, slipped in my right arm, and pulled the zipper up until only my eyes and nose were visible. Ta daaah!  "That, folks, is how you get into a Gumby suit!"

The whole day was a repeat of that first group. Visitors slowly trickled in, asking for demonstrations, to the point where I was just getting into the suit whenever a new gaggle of people came by. I must have jumped in and out of those suits at least 20-25 times. I was a borderline sweaty mess, quietly hoping for some cloud cover or an end to the stream of visitors. It was only in the second half of the day when I had a small stroke of genius, realizing I wasn't the only body standing on the cement dock. I supervised suit donning for a variety of sized people, some disappearing in the suit, others turning the same red suit color as they pushed the seams to their limit.

It was a truly rewarding experience. Not only did I lose a few pounds of water weight by the end of the day, but the people's fascination of the lab, its ship and even the comfy Gumby suits, was a validation of my return to this place as a student.

Alex in his Gumby suit.
Visitors checking out a shark head in a jar.

Melissa Nehmens (current student): One little girl sticks out in my mind because she was rather comfortable with the idea of “sleeping for a long time,” which her father mentioned was to be attributed to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. In her questioning about the shark embryo that she was holding in a jar filled with ethanol, we seemed to have a persistent disagreement as to whether or not the baby, as she called it, would ever wake up. A rather large disconnect in the implied meaning versus explicit meaning of “sleeping forever” seemed to be our hang up, which I only realized after some time. A circular conversation of why’s from the little girl and tip-toed answers from myself really emphasizing the forever part of sleeping seemed to be going nowhere. The parents looked on with smiles, slyly laughing to themselves at my discomfort, and finally gave me a nod to deliver the truth. It was met with a simple “oh” and a furrowed brow, followed by another question which I could see her formulating on her face. “So the baby isn’t going to wake up?” I replied with a no, and from there a new line of questioning began. It was the best conversation I have ever had with a three year old.

Matt Jew explains the game "Name that Shark" to some Open House visitors and future ichthyologists. The game was created my MLML students Vicky Vasquez and Jessica Jang.
The Happy Fish Printers


Heather Kramp (current student): For the past three years I've set up the most beloved, and most dreaded, activity in the Ichthyology lab, fish printing. We repurpose class research cruise specimens and left over thesis samples as art. A table in the corp yard and kids get to pick out a real, dead fish from a cooler. My favorite part of this experience is letting kids know they can pick up the fish and watching their reaction. Most kids are thrilled. Most parents are not quite as thrilled. Next, kids slather on some paint and press a piece of paper on top. The paper is peeled back and, hopefully, a nice impression of the fish is left behind. Kids ask so many questions about where the fish come from and what they eat. Lots of fish "petting" occurs and so many fish eyeballs are poked. My favorite kids are the serious painters. They take their time with every brush stroke and really get into their masterpiece. For the few kids that don't want to touch real fish, rubber ones are available because everybody loves to paint. Rows of fish prints dry on clothesline all weekend long. Kids just love fish printing. But, standing in the hot sun and trying to manage five little painters at once can be a huge challenge. Kids have to be gently encouraged that much, much less paint makes for a better print. Each year at least a handful of pint-sized Jackson Pollock impersonators show up. By early afternoon paint colors have been mixed together and the fish are gooey. First year students often walk away shell-shocked after a couple hours at the table. When the last guests leave we're exhausted. But, there's usually enough energy left for us to do some fish printing of our own. Student works of art adorn the Ichthyology lab walls year-round.

Bruce Stewart... Open House is Closed

MLML’s Dr. Aiello awarded COAST grant to study 2015 El Niño

CSU’s Council on Ocean Affairs, Science & Technology (COAST)  has recently awarded MLML's Geological Oceanographer Dr. Aiello with a ‘rapid response’ grant  to study changes in beach morphology and sand budgets in Monterey Bay during the storm activity associated with the 2015 EL Niño.

Follow this link to learn more:

MLML’s Trimble VX – TLS. Photo by: Dr. Aiello

The Shop Guys

By Kenneth Coale (13 January 2016)

The thesis defense of MLML students requires an oral presentation of their research project including an introduction, materials and methods, results, conclusions and acknowledgements… followed by a closed-door conference with their thesis committee. With a favorable outcome of this conference, the requirement of their culminating experience is fulfilled. I hope to hear about these experiences in following posts.

As an advocate for student mentorship, and, in spite of my great respect for the scientific process, the acknowledgement section is where we find out how MLML touched their lives, shaped their experience, helped them through a trying time, and exactly where when and how their committee friends and family, instilled in them the confidence (and resources) to perceive. I live for this. Their acknowledgements usually run the gambit through their thesis committee members, their cohorts, funding agencies, the library and administration and their family, dog and boyfriend. Yet, unlike any other institution, the acknowledgements always include the Shop Guys. What?   I have been to many defenses at other institutions and no student ever recognizes the facilities staff. At most other programs, they usually tell students what can’t be done rather than what can be done. Normal facilities staff are successful when no-one notices what they do (lights on, temperature OK, no roofs leaking).   You never, ever, hear a student at SJSU recognize the “Facilities, Development and Operations” department, you never hear a student at UCSC recognize the “Louis Fackler Central Facilities” staff… but at MLML it is different. Perhaps we are closer to the ground. Perhaps as a small laboratory, removed from large institutional support, we are very much more in touch with our physical mortality. Perhaps, when faced with the challenge of actually doing something new in the real physical world, the students have few places to turn. This is where the Shop Guys step in.

Back row: Preston Watwood (SG), Ralph Dzuro (SG), Larry Jones (SG), Greg Cailliet, Bernd Wursig, John Martin, Lynn McMasters Front row: Unknown, Sandy Yabrough, Aldo Rose (SG), Gail Johnston, Jim Nybakken, Sheila Baldriidge, and John Heine. Photo sometime between 1985 and 1989. SG = Shop Guys

These are the people who know how to get stuff done, in the physical sense. They live at the interface between knowing and doing. They may not know too much about genomics or oceanography, but they know everything about the coding and operations of physical systems, fabrication and repair. Particularly in marine sciences, there is an intersection between the academic and the physical, when it comes to the following problem: How do you take what you know in your head (as many students experience) to something you can hold this in your hands (as all students need to do)? To the Shop, the faculty send them. It is there that the Shop Guys try to understand just what the students are trying to do and either teach them how to build it, or build it themselves, and in many cases, do what the faculty can’t. In addition, that’s where the tools are, that’s where the materials are, that’s where the knowledge is to use the tools on the materials.

Lynn McMasters and the Italian Shop Guy, Aldo Rose.

There are many stories about the shop and projects that have been built there. An earlier story reported by Susan Coale recounted the handy work of Ted Brieling, who, becoming sick of fixing mud-clogged outboards and rescuing students stuck in the mud, built the flat-bottom “Slough Boat”, that has lasted now over 40 years. The recent Marine Superintendent, Murray Stein, was so enamored with this boat and its story that he began a renovation project on the original hull…still in service today.

Geology student Carolyn Greene was frustrated by the lack of coring equipment available to reconstruct the deposition history of the nearshore environment and the transport dynamics of the canyon. So, she built her own gravity corer. Learning how to arc-weld and cast lead weights, she built a 400 lb, 10-foot corer that has been used ever since. This corer was recently refurbished for the NSF Eager Program teaching new faculty how to become Chief Scientists. It is rumored that the former captain of the R/V Cayuse (Mike Prince) was so smitten by Carolyn’s “hot metal work” (and can-do attitude), that they were married and raised two grown children before the heat dissipated.

Students learning how to weld
Students using the vibercore.


Phycology student Catalina Reyes was trying to attribute algal cover to bottom type throughout Elkhorn Slough. She first tried diving and running transects throughout the slough, but this proved too cumbersome. She and Aldo De Rose came up with an underwater camera tripod (TIG-welded from stainless steel), that could be used to take quick pictures of identical areas from a boat throughout the slough.

Chemical Oceanography student, Rusty Fairey, TIG welded an aluminum frame and pneumatic compression system for obtaining millimeter-scale resolution in pore waters from along the continental margin. The gradients obtained were used to calculate the flux of metals, oxygen and nutrients from the continental margins and Monterey Bay. This device, for a short time, was the preferred method for porewater sampling by state agencies.

All the MLML VERTEX Particle Interceptor Traps (affectionately known as the PITS) were constructed by MLML students and technicians (Sara Tanner, Craig Hunter, Mike Gordon, Madellain Urrere, Susan Coale, Steve Fitzwater, Merrit Tuel, Dale Hebble and others) using the shop. These became a standard for the measurement of carbon flux in the world’s oceans.

Chemical Oceanography student Wesley Heim, developed a polycarbonate sampler (“The Sludge-O-Matic”) that would sample the upper ½ cm of the sediments. This device could be remotely deployed by line, or used by hand (SCUBA). Superficial sediment samples were used to map mercury species and fluxes throughout the SF Bay/Delta complex.

Barry Giles after he left MLML. He never dressed like this as MLML Facilities Manager.

Physical Oceanography student turned technician, Mark Yarbrough, first built his own CTD rosette in the MLML shop as part of the VERTEX program. The design and performance characteristics were published on the cover of Marine Technology magazine. After suffering too many seasick days aboard the Cayuse, Dr. Broenkow turned to optical oceanography. When this occurred Mark built the first marine optical buoy, in the shop at Vertin Avenue, that could be used to calibrate ocean color-sensing satellites. Mark grew the program into what is now known as MOBY, relocated to Oahu, and is now providing vicarious calibrations for all orbiting ocean color sensing satellites and employs many people some of whom are former MLML students.

There are many other creations that emerge every year from Halloween costumes to benthic flux chambers and 90% of all creations are built with schedule 40 PVC. Yet, with new interest, a course is now taught in Marine Fabrication where students are taught how to use all the machinery in the shop. From forklifts to the lathe and mill, students are now putting together Vibracores, fixing Multicores, fabricating microspears, and working on a variety of their own projects. They also tour A&S Metal Recyclers. “If you are going to be in academic construction…” says their instructor, “you’re going to have to learn how to dumpster dive”.

Many students pass through or use the shop during some part of their study. Some use it as a place where they can find materials for their project (note: There are no “Scraps”, ask before you use,,, and oh yea, clean up your mess and, BRING THOSE TOOLS BACK!). Others are looking for advice. Everyone finds something, even barbecued venison from time to time. All are welcome and some find a new skill. Mostly, they connect with the physical world and know a bit more how to be “Shop Guys” themselves.

James and Billy Cochran, two of our current Shop Guys, with their new spiffy MLML shirts.

Shop Guys:

John Bell, Shop Support

Ted Brieling, Boat Builder, Rancher

Ken Delops, Electronics/Radio Tech.

Robert Cayce, Electronics Tech.

Tracy Thomas, Captain of R/V Rickets, Shop Support

Preston Watwood, Shop Support, Farmer, Outboard Engine Repair, Agricultural Test Manager

Larry Jones, Educational Facilities Manager, Singer, Songwriter

Ralph Dzuro, Electrician, Factory Worker, Storyteller

Aldo DeRose, Agricultural Fabrication, Welding, Metalwork, Politics, Storyteller

James Cochran, Corrections, Hunting, Construction, BBQ

William Cochran, Fishing Industry, Community Enforcement (unofficial Sheriff of Moss Landing), Pumps and Motors.

Barry Giles, Aquarium Systems, Mideast Desalination, Sustainability

Gary Adams, Food Processing, Mechanical Systems

Kris Machado, Electro-Mechanical Systems, Fabrication, Restoration

Bill Watson (honorary mention), Electrical Engineer, Fabrication, CAD design, Musician.

MLML Researcher Dr. Ross Clark featured in the Monterey Herald

Dr. Ross Clark of the Central Coast Wetlands Group discusses king tides in the Monterey Herald!

Follow this link to learn more:

Gulls and pelicans on a exposed sand bar in the Moss Landing Harbor during a low tide of minus 1.1 feet on Jan. 21, 2015. Photo by: Vern Fisher - Monterey Herald 

The Big Blue House

By Aaron King, Jim Brennan, and Bill Hayden (7 January 2016)

Postcard of the Blue House in Moss Landing.

Aaron King is a 1989 Ichthyology lab graduate of MLML, and is currently a retired Fed living in the Oakland Hills.  Aaron was one of the original employees of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where he worked on resource management, research, and Sanctuary outreach back in the early days of the internet.

One of the great MLML traditions is the way housing can turn over from one student to the next until no one can remember who first rented it.  Such housing is spread throughout the Moss Landing / Castroville / Prunedale area.  One house, that is both prominent in the Moss Landing community, and iconic in its reflection of this tradition, is the Big Blue House.

Everyone now knows the Big Blue House as the "Captain's Inn," a beautifully refurbished Bed-and-Breakfast created by Melanie Mayer and Yohn Gideon.  However, when I first saw it for rent in the Fall of 1985, it was just a semi-dilapidated house -- BUT, it was within walking distance to the Labs.  I had already spent one semester at MLML, and was returning from a summer in the Aleutian Islands working with Korean and American fishermen as a business liaison officer.  The nice thing about such work is that it left me with a cool $7,000 in my bank account to begin the new school year.

Captain's Inn, the blue house refurbished into a BnB by Melanie Mayer and Yohn Gideon in 2003.

Just before the start of the Fall 1985 semester, I hooked up with two other MLML'ers (Bill Hayden and Tom Lambert) who were also looking for housing.  We called the phone number on the "For Rent" sign and talked with the new owner of the Blue House, a Naval Officer stationed at the Naval Postgraduate School.  After some back-and-forth, he finally rented it to me (because of my big bank account) for a year's lease at $1200 per month.  I remember I had to agree to a VERY LONG and COMPLICATED contract.  The Naval Officer was being transferred to Hawaii, and said he did not want to be concerned with the house for at least a year.  So, he said we should just deal with any maintenance issues, and subtract the cost from the rent.

Bill, Tom, and I turned it into a five bedroom + 1.25 bath dormitory by transforming the dining room and a large closet into bedrooms.  The garage (which Yohn and Melanie made into a 2-story house) was used as a gym ("Jim's Gym" - after Jim Brennan, who set it up with a mixture of assorted workout equipment donated from other MLML'ers).  The building in the back, that is now B-n-B housing, was a much smaller structure, and had a young couple living in it.  When we asked the Post-Mistress what our address was, she told us, "Big Blue House, Moss Landing, CA   95039."

View of the Salinas River and Monterey Bay from the backside of the Captain's Inn (Blue House).

Over the course of many years, a number of students came and went, and the Big Blue House became the closest thing to a "Frat House" that MLML has ever seen.  It wasn't uncommon to wake up in the morning with an empty keg in the middle of the living room, and several students crashed out on the couches and floor around it (or elsewhere!).  Since we had to walk past the post office on our way to the labs, we had our utilities paid by a small stipend we received from MLML for delivering the mail.  And, speaking of utilities, I don't think the pilot light for gas heat was ever turned on there.  Why?  Because we didn't want to pay for the gas!  Instead, we heated the house in the winter by using the three built-in fireplaces.  For firewood, we would collect old wooden pallets from the fish houses on the island, and break them up in the driveway (it's amazing the place never burnt down).  For several years, we had an old Greggor skiff pulled up into the pickleweed in the back.  It had a small electric outboard on it, and for fun, we would sometimes motor over to the labs for class.  I don't think the boat was ever registered.

Immediately after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the house was turned into a temporary base of operations for MLML.  To this day, I can still see Dr. John Martin and several other faculty members gathered around a folding table in the middle of the living room, while Sandy Yarbrough and Gail Johnston sat talking on the phone, working at temporary desks at the far end of the room.

Backside of the Captain's Inn (Blue House).

There are a number of stories I could tell you about the Big Blue House.  Most of them, however, involve folks who are still alive and in positions of respect, so I think it best to keep those stories verbal (for example, you should ask me to tell you the story entitled:  "Me, Andrew DeVogelaere, the Sheriffs' deputies, the Big Blue House, and the Naked Man!").

One of my favorite stories I CAN tell you is about when Bill Hayden woke up one morning to find a bulldozer in the back ploughing up the pickleweed.  He went up to the dozer operator and asked, "What the hell are you doing?"  And, if you knew Bill Hayden, "hell" was pretty strong language.  Turns out, the Harbor District had simply decided to enlarge their equipment storage facility, and was doing so by bulldozing, "that useless slough area back there."  No permits.  No public hearings.  Nothing!

One final story is one that Melanie Mayer told me.....  Around 2001, when Melanie and Yohn were buying the house, they were meeting with their lawyer who was going over some of the sale paperwork with them.  Their lawyer said there was a clause in the lease (remember that long complicated contract I mentioned earlier?) that made the contract non-ending unless one side or the other gave written notice.  It also said that the contract gave me (Aaron King) the option for an additional year once notice had been given.  So, the lawyer told Melanie and Yohn that there may be a problem if this "Aaron King person" wanted to exercise that option.  Melanie said she and Yohn burst out laughing, and Melanie told the lawyer to, "leave the dealing with Aaron King to me!"

Greg and Di stayed at the Captain's Inn during the weekend of his retirement party. The picture on the left is Greg in his room but he looks OK so must have been before the party. The picture on right is the view out his window.

If you want to read more about the history of the blue house in Moss Landing go to this link: