Seriously Formative Years at Stillwater Cove

By Mark Carr, Todd Anderson, and Mickey Singer (30 June 2016)

Over the years, Stillwater Cove in Carmel Bay has become one of the most well-studied kelp forests on the West Coast, thanks to the foundation of research established there by Mike Foster and the good graces of the Pebble Beach - Beach and Tennis Club. Mike taught a course in subtidal ecology at MLML for many years, and this was a springboard for considerable research involving scientific diving at Stillwater and other locations along the coast of California. The late 70s and early 80s were a heyday for kelp forest research at Stillwater.   Among the many students doing thesis research at the time was a group of overly enthusiastic fish ecologists, bound and determined to unravel the importance of kelp forests as nursery habitat for rockfishes. At that time, when divers saw a juvenile rockfish, no one had a clue as to what species they were observing, let alone anything about their ecology. Mickey Singer, Guy Hoelzer, Todd Anderson, and Mark Carr became infatuated with the 10-14 species of juvenile rockfishes that occurred in the kelp forests of Stillwater Cove. These were formative years for learning the skills of scientific diving, boating, and subtidal field ecology.

Our treasured research vessel was a 16’ old Navy black inflatable, riddled with enough small holes that caused it to leak air continuously. Before, in between every dive, and before heading back to shore, the “black raft” was refilled with a dedicated SCUBA tank and a small hose. At one point, we were able to keep the inflatable moored in the water, which could be seen readily from members of the Beach and Tennis Club overlooking the cove, including MLML Director John Martin. Between dive days, the inflatable turned into a floating waterbed, much to the embarrassment of Dr. Martin, who reached the point of replacing the “black raft” with two new Zodiac inflatables for scientific diving at the lab.

We developed a healthy respect for the ocean environment the hard way. Launching inflatables at Stillwater was a challenge with south-facing swells. On one particular occasion, several of us were launching a Zodiac through high surf. We had loaded everyone’s gear into a Zodiac and Guy was in the inflatable trying to start the engine as the rest of us were in the water walking the boat through the surf. As an unexpected wave approached, Guy dove on top of the gear in the bow to keep the Zodiac stable. Instead, he was launched into the air along with much of our gear, including SCUBA tanks. We spent some time searching for gear with our hands and legs, eventually finding most of it. Diving was also a challenge for some of us. One day Mark Carr left his wetsuit hood and booties at the lab and he made three dives in 8-90C water during upwelling with no hood and a pair of gloves on his feet. He returned to the lab wandering around the facility before heading home to spend the rest of the day in bed suffering from hypothermia. These formative “wise” diving practices prepared Todd and Mark for their current roles as the Chairs of the Diving Safety Boards of San Diego State University and UC Santa Cruz.

Aptitude for the logistics of field experiments was also gleaned from our studies at Stillwater. A large (36 m2) artificial kelp forest was secured to the bottom with sand anchors and line off Arrowhead Point. When it was time to remove this kelp forest, the R/V Ricketts cruised to the site. Before loading a crew of divers who rendezvoused on the beach to help remove kelp and retrieve the anchors and line, the Ricketts powered to the site only to find that the entire experiment had vanished. The ocean giveth and the ocean taketh away. However, the ocean wasn’t the only thing that taketh away. A close colleague working on adult kelp rockfish, Gilbert Van Dykhuizen kept deploying surface buoys to mark his study site at Stillwater, only to find them stolen each time he returned for another dive day. Finally, he found the ugliest buoy he could find (pink and green) and wrote “YOU TOUCH, YOU DIE!!” on it… only to find it too was gone by the next visit. Gil’s struggles with logistics were further confounded by an amorous harbor seal who simply couldn’t leave him alone underwater, dubbed Gil’s girlfriend.

In the end, we all completed our master’s theses, working on various aspects of the biology and ecology of juvenile rockfishes, including identification, distribution, habitat associations, timing of settlement, and behavior. We remember Stillwater fondly, as much for our experiences and camaraderie as for the research we accomplished. With the help of the faculty and students at MLML, we taught ourselves how to design studies, develop skills in scientific diving, build sampling gear, troubleshoot outboard engine problems, and of course, have a healthy respect for the ocean and its inhabitants. For us, this was a special time, and MLML was (and is) a special place.

Mickey Singer: What I remember most about doing research in Stillwater, aside from all those lovely beach launchings, was that when diving was good it was often really good, and when it was bad, well, you get the picture. Part of Mark Carr's habitat and my feeding studies involved crepuscular observations. Night diving in Stillwater added an interesting layer to the whole operation. Sitting in the Ricketts for hours between dives in wet wetsuits was particularly comfortable. There were nights when visibility was great, and the bioluminescence was amazing! And there were nights when the vis was lousy, and those mid-depth-open water transects had the distinct addition of the music from “Jaws” in the background. But all in all it was a great place to do research.

The Monterey County Weekly features Dr. Mike Graham and Monterey Bay Seaweeds

Dr. Mike Graham and his work at MLML's Center for Aquaculture is featured in the Monterey County Weekly. The article provides a detailed look at Dr. Graham's fledgling company and the value of seaweeds in the ocean and as human food.

Follow this link to learn more:

Michael Graham, who grew up on Southern California beaches and has never lived more than a mile from the ocean, harvests sea lettuce from his ocean-fed Moss Landing tanks. Photo by: Nic Coury

The Pacific Shark Research Center is crowdfunding to name a new species of ghost shark

Dr. Dave Ebert and students of the Pacific Shark Research Center have been featured on the popular science blog, Southern Fried Science, for their crowdfunding efforts to name a new species of ghost shark.

The Southern Fried Science blog can be found at the following link: 

To learn more about the project and donate, please visit the following link:

Congratulations to MLML alumni Clint Collins on his new position at University of Hawaii, Manoa

Please join us in congratulating Clint Collins, recent graduate of the Benthic Lab, in his new job as Diving Safety and Logistics Specialist at University of Hawaii Manoa! Clint’s extensive underwater experience includes diving in Antarctica for his thesis work, and this image portrays the invaluable support he provided his advisor during field work.

Stillwater Cove: A Magical Diving and Research Spot

By Ross Clark, Dan Reed, Bob Enea, Dave Schiel, Matt EdwardsMickey Singer, and Jasmine Ruvalcaba (26 June 2016)

Google Earth image of Stillwater Cove.

Stillwater Cove of the 1970 and 1980s

Dan Reed: One of the things that I remember most about doing my thesis research at Stillwater Cove was the sense of feeling like a local at one of the most elite country clubs in the nation. After a while the guards at the gate knew who I was as did the manager at the Pebble Beach and Tennis Club.  I also became neighborly with some of the locals who hung out at the beach. The local who I interacted most with was an elderly Italian caddy at the golf course. He would show up early in the mornings to walk the beach looking for errant golf balls that he sold back to the pro shop and to hunt for mushrooms on the fairways which he would cook up for dinner.  We would discuss his day’s catch of balls and shrooms and talk a little sports and weather. He was a colorful guy who had a great outlook on life and was one of the people I always looked forward to seeing on my dive trips to SWC.

Macrocystis. Photo by Scott Gabara

Many years after I had left Moss Landing I was talking to Dave Schiel about the good old days diving at SWC.   Dave had been a post doc of Mike Foster’s a year or two after I graduated from MLML and SWC was one of his study sites. Dave began telling me about a day at  SWC when he was wearing a MLML t-shirt that had a picture of the RV Ricketts and this guy who was at the beach collecting golf balls started talking to him about how he once went on a cruise with Doc Ricketts to the Sea of Cortez.  It turned out to be my old caddy friend Sparky Enea, who along with Tiny Colletto was a seaman on the Western Flyer during Steinbeck’s famous voyage with Doc Ricketts. Sparky and Tiny grew up together in Monterey and Steinbeck described them as “bad little boys who were very happy about it”. The two were involved in many of the adventures that Steinbeck wrote about in The Log from the Sea of Cortez and they also were featured in Cannery Row. Needless to say I was surprised to learn Sparky’s true identity from Dave.  I was (and continue to be) very jealous that Dave’s conversation with Sparky was about Sparky’s adventures with Ricketts and Steinbeck while my many conversations with him focused on golf balls and mushrooms.


Bob Enea: Yes that's right Sparky was my uncle, but there is a little more to the story of SWC.  My dad, Salvatore "Gan" Enea was Sparky's older brother, was the "harbormaster" at SWC for about 20 years after he retired from fishing. He was a good friend of Sam Morse, the founder of Pebble Beach.   He also collected golf balls and hunted for  mushrooms.

Rainbow Starfish. Photo by Scott Gabara.

I remember seeing two big cardboard boxes in the trunk of his car filled with golf balls.  He sold them back the pro shop at Cypress Point. I guess those two had the monopoly on golf balls there. The mushrooms went into the spaghetti sauce we had every Sunday when they were in season. ( here is a family secret, the best place to find mushrooms was just across the road from the Crocker mansion near Cypress Point) Delicious!!!  Sparky always had a pat phrase when someone would ask him about the Sea of Cortez trip, quote:  "I have a thousand wacky tales I could tell you".  And he did!  He was quite a character.

Dave Schiel: I do remember never having seen giant kelp in abundance and stepping off into some wrack on the shore, just below the old pier, and virtually disappearing into muck. I remember some regally dressed duffers, obviously clothed straight from the pro shop, slicing shot after shot at us while we were trying to launch a boat. I remember seeing Dan's Pretygophora still happily occupying the gullies around his experiment, which he had set up by slicing off those plants two years previously. El Nino eventually took care of them, as well as the old pier, and as well as the boat that Don Canestro and I staked to the fairway because the wind came up so strongly we couldn't carry it uphill. The boat, half the fairway and the green joined the pier, somewhere in the cove.

Sea cucumber. Photo by Scott Gabara

I remember, like Dan, meeting some very nice folks in the car park. Neil Andrew and I once saw an exquisite elderly lady emerge from her chauffeur-driven car. She was decked out in a mink coat and greeted us cordially. The memorable thing was that her teeth were pretty much gold. Now that is opulence!

I left a lot of chum in that Cove, thanks to the donuts that Don used to bring for breakfast. And, of course, there was the episode of students leaving a spear in the Avon and deflating most of the hull while we were diving. And the young keen students from out east somewhere, who panicked diving on a no-viz day and dropped a hammer, quadrats and various heavy objects on my head.

But mostly I remember having a grand time diving with everyone. Mike Foster was in his heyday, and we all got out there as much as possible. I think I did over 200 dives there in the couple of years I spent.

Stillwater Cove research in the 1990s.

Ross Clark and Matt Edwards: When it came to kelp forest research the Mike Foster Phycology lab of the 1990s was a force to be reckoned with. The Dive Program at Moss Landing Marine Labs provided tanks, dive trucks, Zodiacs and 15 horsepower motors; the students provided the strong backs, the core body heat, and the sure will needed to get the research done. The subtidal ecology class introduced most of us to the art of field ecology and the science of diving and often to our beloved species of study for years to come. As we told our advisors many times, underwater ecology took longer than two years to complete.

Gopher Rockfish and rocky reef. Photo by Scott Gabara.

Stillwater diving during summer months was a five-day-a-week activity, with multiple Zodiacs full of students, their equipment such as transect tapes, rebar, PVC, Zspar and, and for those lucky ones with Meyers grants, stainless bolts for attaching, counting, moving, removing and strapping our creatures of interest into new and hopefully scientifically interesting densities, depths and distributions. It was a time of clear-it, cage-it, count-it ecology. Once our research was in place, the temporal changes became the commitment we sometimes found to regret. The summer comradery of divers dwindled as winter waves approached and the holidays loomed. While Stillwater was an aptly named place for research during the summer months, those of us who chose to take on seasonal studies found Stillwater in the winter to often be a misnomer. Diving on December 24th was a reality for the few of us that needed our end of the year data before we traveled home for the holidays. Spring diving came with chilling upwelled waters that drained our bodies of the heat we had so lovingly added through Phil’s terrible coffee. More than once, Matt and I needed to push each other into the water to complete that last chilling dive of the day when involuntary self-preservation made it difficult otherwise. The George Leonard 24hr bat star roundups and Lawrence Honma midnight to 6 am limpet movement observations gave us daytime researchers a rare glimpse into Stillwater Cove after dark.

Other times, the Cove was a magical place where we found ourselves with extra tanks of air and the time to explore undersea caves, gaze up at schools of anchovies circling within our kelp clearings or be surprised by gray whales popping up through the kelp beside our Zodiac. With site names ranging from Neptune’s Doorstep to Satan’s Hallow, the Cove offered us a variety of habitats in which to do our work. Our dive days ended with the usual carrying of gear up the stairs from the beach to the dive truck and a quick round of the age-old children’s game “Not-It” to see who had to drive home and who got to nap. No matter who that was, navigating the route was never an issue. The truck - like a rented trail pony – seemed to know the way, which almost always involved a stop at the Marina Taco Bell where burritos were purchased as payment for dive assistance or for those who found the lost quadrat or dive knife. As the teacher assistant for the subtidal ecology class, I hosted an underwater midterm lab exam where divers searched in-situ for the species listed on their clipboards; the length of the exam determined by the air in their tank. While we may have left a bit more than bubbles in Stillwater Cove, the researchers that finished their Stillwater research have drafted numerous publications that have contributed greatly to the advancement of kelp forest ecology and made Stillwater one of the most studied kelp forests.

Diving off the RHIB in Stillwater Cove (Scott Hamilton, Arley Muth, and Jasmine Ruvalcaba).

Research diving continues into the 2000s

Jasmine Ruvalcaba: My first experience with Stillwater Cove started with interning for Selena McMillan, a graduate student in the Phycology lab at MLML in 2006. I had recently completed the summer research diving course through MLML. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed about research diving. Selena’s project was working with giant kelp and snail grazers. Goals were to build copper frames and create an inclusion setting with different amounts of snails per plant. Little did I know this would be the start of years of research diving at Stillwater Cove for me while it’s been home to research for decades.

Paul Thompkins and Jasmine Ruvalcaba sampling kelp in Stillwater Cove. The harbor seal in the upper right checks out the sampling technique.

From hauling a zodiac, motor, and gear with the dive truck in the winter to suiting up in our wetsuits and swimming to the whaler that would be moored in Stillwater Cove during the summer months, we would regularly go out until the job was done. From 2009-2012 I teamed up with Mike Fox and Arley Muth to carry out a National Science Foundation grant for Dr. Michael Graham.  I fondly remember the days where Stillwater Cove lived up to its name, arriving in the morning to glassy waters. Other times we had to call the dive due to bad conditions and go to the Moss Landing Café for the best breakfast sandwich in town.

Anthopleura and kelp. Photo by Scott Gabara.

Every month for 3 years we were diving at Stillwater Cove and it became our second home. From the stands of stalked kelp plants that we would regularly monitor to the rocky outcrops and sand channels that were ingrained in our minds to use as navigational aids, we picked up a sixth sense for finding our study areas in the worst of visibility. A permanent mooring would serve as our home base during dives with the boat tied. Other sites we would visit were Foster’s site where previous research had been conducted years before. In addition to grant work, we would all have ongoing theses projects here. This gave us an incredible amount of time underwater with over 200 dives. Work with each other became so second nature that each of us would know the next step before being gestured by a buddy. There is an incredible relationship between dive buddies, essentially you trust each other with each other lives.

The post dive eatery has changed over the years where Marina’s Papa Chevo’s was the place to have a burrito after we dove. Then we would struggle to not fall into a burrito coma while rinsing gear back at small boats. The post dive appetite is quite impressive. Stillwater Cove’s legacy will continue to be a source of knowledge for research to come in future generations. MLML diving and small boats program is an incredible resource at the lab and provides invaluable experience in the field.

James Nybakken: The first faculty member of MLML

By Gary McDonald, Mark Silberstein, and Jim Harvey (16 June 2016)

Dr. James Nybakken was born in Minnesota, received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and was hired by California State College at Hayward (now California State University East Bay) in 1965. In 1966, with the formation of the MLML consortium, Jim Nybakken became the first faculty member at MLML. Jim taught at MLML for 32 years, and was Interim Director twice before retiring in 1998.

Gary McDonald: I was (and still am) fascinated by nudibranchs and wanted to do some kind of research on nudibranchs, and Dr. Nybakken was one of the few professors on the west coast who was interested in nudibranchs. In 1970, at the urging of my undergraduate invert zoology instructor (Dave Montgomery) at Cal Poly, I drove up to MLML to meet Dr. Nybakken to discuss the possibility of him being my major professor if I came to MLML as a grad student. I was delighted when he agreed, he even offered me financial support in the form of a position with the first Sea Grant which MLML had just received. One of Dr. Nybakken's projects was studying the nudibranch population in the intertidal at Asilomar State Beach, and once a month, rain or shine, during a minus tide he and a few of his students would go out to count the number of nudibranchs within a prescribed area. At the beginning of the study Rich Ajeska, Genny Anderson, Shane Anderson, & I each had a specific area to survey; after Rich, Shane & Genny graduated, Dave Shonman joined the nudibranch counters. During the early 1970s Dr. Nybakken supervised a number of students interested in nudibranchs and who completed masters theses:

Rich Ajeska, 1971, "Contributions to the biology of Melibe leonina (Gould)"

Genny Anderson, 1971, "A contribution to the biology of Doridella steinbergae and Corambe pacifica"

Jim Eastman, 1975, "Food preferences of Triopha maculata and Triopha carpenteri on the Monterey Peninsula, California"

Gary McDonald, 1977, "A review of the nudibranchs of the California"

Teresa Turner, 1978, "Adaptive significance of foot forms and types of locomotion in opisthobranchs"

John Cooper, 1979, "Ecological aspects of Tubularia crocea (Agassiz, 1862) and its nudibranch predators in Elkhorn Slough, California"

On stern of R/V Cayuse, December, 1980, with beam trawl which Gary McDonald built, L. to R.: Gary McDonald, Dr. Nybakken, Mike Kellogg, & John Cooper. At this point Gary had graduated from MLML a few years previously & was working at Long Marine Lab as a marine technician, but was invited back for the trawling trip.

Part of the Sea Grant which MLML obtained in 1970 involved surveying the benthic inverts in northern Monterey Bay. We made sampling cruises on the R/V Amigo & R/V Falcon, both vessels owned by Frank Monich. At this time MLML did not have its own large research vessel, only the "barely seaworthy" R/V Orca, which was far too small for the benthic sampling required for the Sea Grant project. We used a Smith-McIntyre bottom grab to collect the benthic samples.

Among the species found were several specimens of a small aeolid nudibranch which had not been described, so Dr. Nybakken & I named it in honor of MLML (Cerberilla mosslandica).

One of the courses Dr. Nybakken taught was Marine Invertebrates. I was fortunate to be the teaching assistant for 2 or 3 of his invert classes. At least one class field trip each year was a dredging/trawling trip in Monterey Bay to find deeper water inverts. Dr. Nybakken also made many other dredging trips in Monterey Bay to collect benthic inverts.

Each year, at the end of the class, Dr. Nybakken invited the students from the invert class to an invert dinner at his home in Carmel Valley, where students celebrated finishing the class by eating clam chowder, mussels, crabs and other kinds of inverts they had studied during the semester.

In June 1975, Dave Lewis was living at La Selva State Beach. One morning he saw several people down on the beach below his house. They were collecting Pismo Clams, lots of Pismo Clams of all sizes. Dave called California Fish & Game. When DF&G arrived the people were cited and the clams were brought to MLML where Dr. Nybakken organized several students so that all of the clams could be measured, all 2,856 of them.

Cerberilla mosslandica McDonald & Nybakken, 1975. Photo by Gary McDonald

In January, 1975, Jim Lance of Scripps Institution of Oceanography invited Dr. Nybakken & me to accompany him on his annual trip to Nayarit, Mexico, to look for nudibranchs. We stayed in a small private home in Rincón de Guayabitos, and collected in a number of areas between Matanchén & La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Not only did we find many species of nudibranchs we had not seen before, but many other inverts as well. This trip also allowed Dr. Nybakken, an active orchid grower, to collect a few orchids to add to his orchid collection.

In 2007, John Pearse (UCSC), Jeff Goddard (UCSB), & Terry Gosliner (Cal. Acad. Science) received a Sea Grant to replicate the nudibranch counts which Dr. Nybakken had done at Asilomar in the 1970s, as well as surveys done previously by others at Scott Creek & at Pillar Point. We met with Dr. Nybakken at Asilomar so that he could show us exactly where his counts had been done.

Mark Silberstein: Dr. Jim Nybakken was a fairly new professor when I met him at MLML in the late 1960s, but he had the presence of an old style academic. All of the professors were referred to as ‘Doctor’ then. (Not until the arrival of Greg Cailliet and Mike Foster, the Santa Barbarans, were students and professors on a first name basis). As an enthusiastic student of invertebrate zoology, Nybakken was the fellow I wanted to learn from. He tended to be a bit formal, and a little intimidating to me, but when a student brought in an unusual specimen from the field, his enthusiasm would bubble out. His deep interest in molluscs was infectious, and Gary McDonald’s account of their joint studies on opisthobranchs captures a great era in ML history. Nybakken organized deep dredging cruises in the bay and on one of the trips, on the Navy research ship DeSteiger, we dredged up some aplacophorans – an odd class of molluscs that are rarely found in shallow water. I remember his excitement, marveling at these strange worm-like creatures and puzzling over their morphology and habits and we shared a laugh at their strangeness.

When I spoke to students from other institutions and schools, Nybakken was well known, because the textbooks he wrote were widely used in introductory marine science classes.

Jim Nybakken on one of the Te Vega cruises

Jim pioneered the quantitative study of the invertebrates of Elkhorn Slough in the early 1970s and along with Greg Cailliet and Bill Broenkow and their students, published the benchmark work on slough biota and hydrology. Nybakken was involved with The Nature Conservancy in their early work in the slough that led to the first conservation transactions and land protection there.

One of the enduring images is a photo of Jim, as a student, on the legendary ship Te Vega – Hopkins Marine Station’s research vessel in the 1960’s. He is on deck in the tropical sun, beaming up at the camera. The Te Vega made 19 cruises to tropical seas from 1963 – 1968 and many of our venerated elder statesmen, and legends of Marine Biology, participated: Jim Nybakken, John Pearse, Vicki Pearse, Michael Ghieslen, Richard Mariscal, Margaret Bradbury, Richard Barber, Don Abbot, Rolf Bolin, Mary Silver, Vida Kenk, Gene Haderlie, Bob Lea, Richard Parrish, Jim Childress, Bruce Robison, Alan Baldridge, Joel Hedgpeth and a host of other luminaries. Nybakken returned as the Chief Scientist on Te Vega’s cruise to the Sea of Cortez and the mainland of Mexico in 1967.

Reading through his notes give a sense of his enthusiasm and excitement and his bent toward natural history as he explored what must surely have been a tremendously exotic environment for a farm boy from Minnesota. He made many scientific collections during these cruises and brought back valuable specimens.

The MLML museum collection was a deep interest and a tribute to the breadth of his zoological interests. This remains an extraordinary and valuable research asset. Jim’s legacy lives on in the students he mentored at Moss Landing and in the uncountable numbers of students inspired by his books. His is an indelible part of MLML history.

Jim Harvey: In 2009, Dr. James Nybakken died from leukemia and is survived by his wife Bette and sons Kent and Scott. Jim published 16 papers, mostly on molluscs, and particularly the genus Conus. He also produced a popular marine biology text: Nybakken, J.W. and M.D. Bertness. 2004.  Marine Biology: an Ecological Perspective, 6th Edition. Pearson, Benjamin Cummings, San Francisco.

Jim's ashes were scattered at sea from the research vessel John Martin over Jim's favorite sampling site:  "the 60 meter station".  A bottle of Chardonnay was opened and poured over the side to christen the spot, and a Norwegian flag flew from the ship's mast.

Dr. Nybakken served as the thesis advisor for 61 MLML students, his first student to graduate was Marilyn Vassallo in 1968 (CSUH) and his last student graduated in 2000, Kristen Kaplan (CSUMB).

Bette Nybakken has set up a Nybakken student scholarship, so we encourage you to help support future students by contributing to this scholarship fund.

Benthic Lab highlighted for work with MBARI engineers to utilize the SeeStar camera system in Antarctica

Check out the article posted in The American Scholar titled "A Cold Look: Diving deep into Antarctic ecosystems" that highlights the cooperation between the MLML Benthic Lab and MBARI engineers to utilize the SeeStar camera system in Antarctica.

Follow this link to read the article:

The view from 600 feet down in the McMurdo Sound (National Science Foundation).

R/V Point Sur goes to Antartica

By Tara Pastuszek (9 June 2016)

R/V Point Sur in Antarctica. Photo by Reny Tyson

During the Austral Summer of 2013, the R/V Point Sur sailed to Antarctica and spent two months supporting operations while based at Palmer Research Station. Participating in this historic voyage was a privilege and I feel I can speak for the entire crew in expressing the pride of getting to see her, the Sur, in one of the most majestic places on earth.

R/V Point Sur was built in 1980, is 135 feet in length, beam of 32 feet, has a draft of 9 feet, displacement tonnage of 539 tons, was owned by the NSF and operated by MLML as part of the UNOLS academic fleet until 2015.

R/V Point Sur tied up next to the Laurence M. Gould. Photo by Scott Hansen.

To make the trip a large amount of equipment was added (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, Marine Sanitation Device, Oily Water Separator, Thermal Imaging Camera, water purification system, ice gear), then much planning (risk management plan, surveys of the vessel, insurance, weather/ice forecasting, and foreign port and Palmer provisioning).

The transit from Moss Landing, California to Punta Arenas, Chile.

The transit south to Punta Arenas, Chile:

  • Depart MLML on 28 November 2012
  • 8,600 nautical miles
  • 38 days
  • 31,000 gallons of fuel used
  • Two refueling stops
  • 1 Christmas tree

Now you have to cross the infamous Drake Passage, considered one of the most dangerous patches of water in the world to get to Palmer Station, Antarctica.

Drakes Passage


Typical Drake Passage crossing:

Typical Drakes Passage crossing


The R/V Point Sur crossing (4 days):

Point Sur corssing Drakes Passage


The R/V Point Sur supported NSF-sponsored research regarding:

  • Geology
  • Marine mammals
  • Krill and zooplankton
  • Physical Oceanography
  • Penguins
  • Sub-tidal mooring recovery (Chile)
  • Water sampling (Mexico)


Here are some Antarctica flashbacks from a cook’s perspective:

Antarctic krill. Photo by Tara Pastuszek

Though I cannot explain much about the krill density study that was conducted on the vessel, I can say that the soon-to-be-famous Creole krill cake was mighty tasty!

Creole krill cake. Photo by Tara Pastuszek (notice the small black dots that are krill eyes)

We throw the term ice water around so easily on land. When you spend day after day looking at ice and water combined with ever-changing light, the sheer beauty of it all eludes the camera.

Photo by Tara Pastuszek
Photo by Tara Pastuszek
Photo by Tara Pastuszek

Penguins are adorable.

Gentoo Penguin feeding chick. Photo by Scott Hansen

Penguins really stink.

Chinstrap Penguin colony. Photo by Tara Pastuszek

Taking a break in the middle of your work day to hang out near a penguin colony is so much fun it makes it easy to tolerate the smell.

Penguins on beach with R/V Point Sur in background. Photo by Tara Pastuszek
Point Sur crew at a penguin colony.

I will probably always say that a minke whale is the most gorgeous and graceful creature I have ever witnessed in motion.

Minke whale. Photo by Scott Hansen
Minke whale. Photo by Ari Friedlaender

I will never forget what a whale’s breathe smells like. Thank you to Ari Friedlaender and the whole team for my boat ride and a whale-watching trip like no other! It was my first, and hopefully not my last, Cetacean Vacation!

Breaching humpback whale. Photo by Ari Friedlaender

The crew of the Point Sur made sure to leave a mark and a bit of Moss Landing at Palmer Station.

R/V Point Sur arrow with names of crew.
Moss Landing arrow sign at Palmer Station.

There are so many people who were involved with the planning, preparation and execution of this journey. The support of the MLML community was felt and appreciated by the whole crew and never let it be said that MLML does not throw a great welcome home party!

MLML celebrates the return of the R/V Point Sur from Antarctica.

The logistics were daunting at times. Those of you who know Stewart Lamerdin know that he really needed this Chilean beer as he prepared to send the Sur to cross the Drake. Thank you, Stewart, for your tireless effort which made this whole journey a reality.

Stewart Lamerdin, MLML Marine Superintendent, obtaining Chilean liquid courage before sending the R/V Point Sur across the Drake Passage.

Thank you to Moss Landing Marine Laboratories for giving me the opportunity to play in your world. I was able to pursue my own passion and learn so much from the people around me, each and every day. This made my almost six years with you a truly rewarding and rich experience. Happy Anniversary.

Thank you to the crew (and relief crew!) I was privileged to sail with and for our safe return.

Closing with one more picture and the names that belong to those beaming faces.

Pt Sur crew in front of vessel in Palmer

Crew of the R/V Point Sur at Palmer Station:

Back row:

A/B, Scott Hansen

2nd Mate, Leah Harman

Chief Engineer, Barrett Carpenter

Marine Technician, Stian Alesandrini

A/B, Alex Wick

Assistant Engineer, Jack Lavariega


Lower row:

Chief Mate/Ice Advisor, Capt. Diego Mello

Chief Steward/Chef, Tara Pastuszek

A/B, Amy Biddle

Captain Rick Verlini


Fun Facts:

  • 19,906 total nautical miles sailed
  • 81,212 gallons of diesel consumed
  • 2,274 pounds of meat cooked and eaten
  • 59,346 gallons of freshwater used
  • 6 foreign ports visited
  • 2,120 eggs consumed
  • 11 pilots sailed aboard the R/V Point Sur to assist with navigation
  • 146 pounds of coffee brewed
  • 45 scientists worked aboard the vessel
  • Public outreach: Daisy Ingraham Elementary School (Westbrook CT), Leesburg Elementary School (Leesburg, FL), Toro Park Elementary School (Salinas, CA)
  • 14,000 hits on the Point Sur blog site during the trip














Sea Grant – Sharing a 50th Anniversary with MLML

50 years of the Sea Grant vision: science serving the coast

By Rick Starr (2 June 2016)

What is Sea Grant and what do you do at MLML?  That is the question I am most often asked when I tell people I am with California Sea Grant and MLML. If I am busy I usually utter something cryptic like “Sea Grant helps coastal communities” and then hurry away because it often takes me several rounds of my favorite beverage to fully explain Sea Grant. Looking back in time, I was in the job for a few years before I began to understand the entire scope of California Sea Grant.

Big Sur coastline. Photo by Rick Starr

The long answer “What is Sea Grant?” goes back 50 years to the same year that MLML was born. Our country was in a period of time when there was an emphasis on science and asserting U.S. control over the natural resources of the Exclusive Economic Zone (the coastal ocean out to 200 miles off the coast); Congress wanted to make university research available to help communities utilize our nation’s coastal resources and started sending money to research institutions – see Director Harvey’s last blog: The OTHERS THAT TURNED 50 to learn about other marine labs that started in the 1960s.

In 1966, Congress and President Johnson established the National Sea Grant Program. Conceived as a Federal-State partnership, the National Sea Grant College program now has 33 partnership programs - one in every coastal and Great Lakes state, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Each of the 33 Sea Grant programs receives an annual grant from NOAA to fund applied research, extension, and communication programs – the 3 legs of the national plan to “put science to work for America’s coastal communities”. California Sea Grant is headquartered in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

As an aside for all you PIs who’ve had funding from Sea Grant over the years, the original 1966 legislation requires the onerous 50% match for federal dollars!

Purse seiner. Photo by Rick Starr

Sea Grant and MLML have had a close relationship since they were created 50 years ago, primarily because both groups have the goal of conducting high quality applied research to help solve environmental problems. In the early years of Sea Grant, the emphasis was on improving ways to extract, process, and distribute resources (fishes, invertebrates, oil, gas, etc.) from the coastal zone, but by the 1990s it became apparent that people and businesses were really good at extracting resources and that Sea Grant research was needed to help prevent or minimize problems associated with overfishing, water pollution, invasive species, tsunamis, coastal erosion, coastal armoring, and wetland loss, among other things. Sea Grant research changes as societal needs change, so now the national focus is on providing information to maintain healthy coastal ecosystems, resilient communities and economies, ensure sustainable fisheries, increase aquaculture products, help communities adapt to climate change, and help improve environmental literacy and workforce development.

Sea Grant Funds Research and Students

Larval market squid. Photo by Rick Starr

As early as 1973 the collaboration between California Sea Grant and MLML was evident as James Jensen and Sara Tanner wrote a MLML – Sea Grant sponsored technical report that contained an annotated checklist of the marine algae of the Moss Landing Jetty. Soon afterwards, MLML researchers received Sea Grant funds to lead a large multi-disciplinary, multi-year research effort to understand the biology of market squid. MLML Director Jim Harvey (then a shaggy-haired grad student) and Professor Gregor Cailliet (then a hard working volleyball player disguised as a professor) played big roles in that project. In 1978, after three years of research, the group summarized and published the biological, oceanographic and acoustic aspects of the market squid in Cal Fish and Game Fish Bulletin 169. That work was an important contribution to the knowledge of one of the state’s biggest fisheries. Other work conducted in the 1970s by Drs. Cailliet and Nybakken included ecological investigations of the Sablefish trap fishery and studies of Elkhorn Slough ecology to improve wetland management.

For several years in the 1980s Sea Grant provided funds to Mike Foster to help support MLML Open Houses. Sea Grant also provided some support for new equipment when the old lab was remodeled in the 1980s (pre- earthquake).  Examples of a few grants that came to Greg Cailliet and MLML in the 80s include:

  • Application of aging techniques to emerging elasmobranch fisheries: Some of the species the Ichthyology Lab studied back then included: Blue, Thresher, Mako, White, Leopard, and Angel Sharks
  • Tag return analysis of California Sturgeon and Elasmobranchs
  • Age determination of bank rockfish (with Loo Botsford of UC Davis)
  • Description of the larval development of CA rockfish (with Val Loeb)
Greg Cailliet in one of his classic Halloween costumes.


Also, in the mid-80s California Sea Grant published “Blue Water Diving Guidelines", edited by MLML Diving Officer John Heine, a book that set the standard for research diving. Kenneth Coale contributed a chapter to that book.

Schematic of blue water diving operations designed by John Heine to surgically implant sonic transmitters in fishes.

John Heine in the Delta submersible, photo by Rick Starr

The Sea Grant – MLML connection goes beyond funding research. The California Sea Grant Extension Program has been active in the Monterey Bay region since the early 1970s. University academics with Extension positions in California are tasked with “extending” university research by helping coastal communities solve practical problems. The way California Sea Grant Extension does this is by using collaborative research as a tool. Extension people listen to user groups, identify issues that can be better addressed with more information, and engage other academics and communities in research projects.

Tommy Thompson was the original Sea Grant Extension Agent - had an office at the labs in the early 1970s and was the lab’s dive officer. He started the Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project, which at the time was focused on rearing salmon smolts in marine waters to enhance the fishery. Later in the 70s Jim Waldvogel continued to help the Salmon and Trout Project before he moved to Crescent City.

In the early-1980s MLML welcomed California Sea Grant Extension Agent Ed Melvin to MLML. Ed worked on a variety of fishery issues, such as on-board handling of salmon and albacore, working with the new Vietnamese immigrant fishermen in the area, and was a mainstay of the Advisory Committee that guided the development of the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. As the 1990s arrived, Ed Melvin and Greg Cailliet began to work on everyone’s favorite slime producer – the Pacific Hagfish.   Ed moved to Seattle in 1990 to work for Washington Sea Grant. For years now Ed has been a leader in the development of techniques to prevent seabird mortalities in longline fisheries. Also, MLML graduate Susan McBride (now Susan Schlosser) served as an Extension Specialist in Eureka from 1992 until she retired in 2012.

Fisheries and Conservation Lab


After a 2-year gap, I arrived in 1992 to continue the California Sea Grant – MLML connection. That was quite a transition for me. I came from a beautiful research facility in Oregon to a leaky shack (i.e. trailer) in the parking lot of the shore lab. When the wind blew hard in the summer time I had to cover my computer and leave the trailer because wind blew sand sideways across the “office”. That was better than the winter, however, because when it rained I had to cover my desk with a tarp and put buckets out to collect water as it gushed through the leaky roof. Ahh, but those were the Good Old Days, I was just a few steps away from the beach and the volleyball court.

The California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program here at MLML is an example of an Extension project. In the last 10 years, more than 30 MLML grad students have worked at sea with >800 volunteer anglers to catch, tag, and release fish inside and outside marine reserves. While we have been tagging fish, we’ve talked with fishermen and educated people about the life history and management of fishes, conservation needs and resource policy approaches (e.g., the values of reserves). Dean Wendt of Cal Poly SLO and I created CCFRP because we believe that management of resources is best accomplished if user groups are involved in data collection. This project typifies the premise of Sea Grant Extension work – that resource management solutions are more lasting if interested public parties are involved.

Tagging fish, photo by Rick Starr

At that time I started in my leaky shack Gregor, Val Loeb, and Mary Yoklavich received Sea Grant funds to investigate the distribution, abundance, and recruitment of larval rockfish while in the trailers in Salinas. Also Kenneth Coale and Greg Cailliet, Allen Andrews, and Erica Burton worked with Sea Grant funding to develop techniques for using radioactive isotopes to validate ages of long-lived rockfishes. That work continued with Allen Andrews, who used bomb carbon signatures to age fishes. Next came Sea Grant funds to help survey shark and ray fisheries in the Gulf of California. In addition to providing excellent information about elasmobranchs in Baja, that project provided bundles of fun. Read Joe Bizzarro’s blog (Baja Adventures) for a sample of their (mis)adventures.

Sea Grant Funds Students

One of the best areas of intersection between MLML and Sea Grant is each institution’s commitment to training new scientists. MLML’s philosophy of having grad students play major roles in field research projects not only results in lost or ruined equipment (call that gaining experience!), but also provides amazing training. Sea Grant has been glad to help support this philosophy by providing funding for “Traineeships” on research grants. Approximately two MLML students receive education and full research funding from California Sea Grant each year, and many others have received partial funding and work opportunities. As an example, Dave Ebert recounts that one Sea Grant project he had (studies of demersal Chondrichthyans) supported Lewis Barnett and Chris Rinewalt as Trainees, and another 8 students for a total of 10 students! By the way, that one project resulted in ~20 peer-reviewed publications so far, with a few more still to come.  Similarly, funding I’ve received has partially or fully supported about 3-5 students per year in the last 20 years.

In addition to funding grad students, California Sea Grant offers post-graduate fellowships for students to get on-the-job training with State and Federal agencies.  Each year, California Sea Grant places 15-20 recent graduates in a year-long policy fellowship, so good students can get an inside look at how agencies develop resource policies. MLML recent graduate Sara Worden currently has a Sea Grant Fellowship with the California Ocean Protection Council.

As you can tell from the last few paragraphs, funding in the first 30 years of MLML and Sea Grant was directed towards basic information about the biology of fishes. Sea Grant funding to MLML has diversified in the last 15 years. In the early 2000s Gary Greene and Rikk Kvitek received Sea Grant funds to develop and publish a habitat characterization of the California Continental Margin. Similarly, Lisa Kerr, Jason Cope and I received Sea Grant funds to publish a book on the Trends in Fisheries and Fishery Resources of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Just after that time, Mike Graham successfully competed for Sea Grant funds to study the population dynamics of the invasive kelp Undaria in Santa Barbara harbor. Mike followed that work up with a Sea Grant to culture red seaweeds to add to red abalone diets. Mike also was successful in getting a grant to develop methods for kelp preservation for feeding abalone.

Venturing further from studies of species of commercial use, from 2008–2011 Sea Grant funded Jim Harvey, Josh Adams, and Erika McPhee-Shaw to track Sooty Shearwaters to identify pathways of connectivity of Shearwaters in the California Current Upwelling System. Also, Larry Breaker was funded about that time to investigate why water temperatures in central California were decreasing as global atmospheric temperatures were increasing. Diana Stellar was awarded a grant in 2010 to study Rhodoliths with students Paul Tompkins, Scott Gabara, and Kristin Meagher.  Diana reminds us that Rhodolith means ‘red stone’ and they are unattached coralline algal nodules that roll around on the seafloor with the help of waves and currents.  Collectively they form a unique habitat over soft sedimentary bottoms and occur worldwide from the poles to the tropics!

Sea Grant Funding for Future Ocean Changes

Sea Grant funding to MLML in recent years has been focused on future ocean changes. A sample of projects MLML PIs have received recently includes:

  • Response of Calcified and Fleshy Macroalgae to Warming and Ocean Acidification: from Single Species to Community Interactions (Scott Hamilton, Michael Graham)
  • Effects of Ocean Acidification on Olfactory Senses, Swimming Physiology, and Gene Expression in Juvenile Rockfish (Scott Hamilton)
  • Baseline Characterization of Rocky Intertidal Ecosystems (Ivano Aiello)
  • CSU Center for Aquaculture workshop (Graham, Hamilton)
  • Ocean acidification and hypoxia effects on reproduction in rockfish (Scott Hamilton)

Crashing wave, photo by Rick Starr

California sea lions aboard the stern of a seiner. Photo by Rick Starr

California coastline rocks, photo by Rick Starr.

The next 50 years

Sea Grant and MLML have enjoyed a great partnership for many years. Sea Grant has provided funding for research, graduate traineeships, and helped publish and distribute information generated from the research. MLML has helped Sea Grant by conducting great research, training grad students to be interested in solving societal issues, and housing Sea Grant Extension Specialists. We expect the partnership will continue to grow and thrive. Next fall we plan to advertise for a joint Sea Grant/MLML position in aquaculture. Both Sea Grant and MLML believe that an aquaculture program here at MLML has tremendous potential to help serve Californians. We look forward to another 50 years of collaboration.

The new aquaculture building.