• Book Review: The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival

    By Marge Ann Jameson

    Picture stately Julia Platt in her purple dress and yellow gauntlets charging down to Lovers Point, axe in hand, to knock down a fence and ensure that the beach remained accessible to the public. Marvel that she had the foresight to petition the state legislature in 1931 to make Pacific Grove the only city with title to its waterfront and “certain submerged lands in the Bay of Monterey contiguous thereto,” along with the right to manage its own coastline.

    Platt’s legacy — and her colorful mode of dress — are described in The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival, a collaboration by Stephen R. Palumbi and Carolyn Sotka. It is a hopeful book about the ecology of the Monterey Bay. In it, they write about Platt’s legacy sanctuary. The “certain submerged lands in the Bay of Monterey” are not at Lovers Point, however, but in the area of Hopkins Marine Station where fishery biologists were, at the time, becoming alarmed at the condition of the bay due to the offal dumped into it by the canneries.

    It would take decades for Platt’s foresight to bear fruit. By then, the sardine industry would have collapsed – due not only to overfishing practices, but also due to forces of nature beyond the control of man.

    Peppered with anecdotes about such lively local denizens as Julia Platt, Ed “Doc” Ricketts and the foursome who dreamed of an aquarium where they had partied as students (Chuck Baxter, Steve Webster and Nancy and Robin Burnett), The Death and Life of Monterey Bay traces the natural history of the Monterey Bay from its early discovery by Oholone tribespeople through Spanish residency and its effect on the otter population, the ruinous sardine cannery days and the rebirth of the kelp, seabird, seal, abalone and otter populations today.

    While never pedantic, the authors give enough scientific data to satisfy the most precise among us and still keep us entertained with stories about locals such as John and Vicki Pearse. The authors have interviewed dozens, scientists and laypeople alike, and have done copious amounts of research among the annals at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. It is an honor to be able to say we know many of the people they write about, and that we see them every day.

    The Death and Life of Monterey Bay is a joyous, forward-looking account of the rebirth of an ecosystem, an example for other areas seeking to recover from ecological disaster, whether man-made or wrought by the forces of nature. It was years in the making and is fresh off the press. It is a slender volume, easy to pick up and set aside. Palumbi’s daughter, Lauren, provided delightful drawings to open each chapter. Interspersed with drawings and charts, and carefully footnoted, the book engages and entertains while gently educating the reader about the relationships among the various forms of ocean life: plankton, sardines; sea urchins and abalone, otters, the kelp forest, sharks, seals, alga. . .each has a part to play in the delicate balance of the Monterey Bay. Just as there are mysteries far out to sea which affect life closer to shore, the actions – and reactions – of people on land have just as strong an effect. Each of us is a steward of the Bay, both on- and offshore.

    If you have not been reading the serialized version printed in the Monterey Herald, and even if you have and want to own the book yourself, you can find it at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History and at the Works. You can also meet the authors on Saturday, Dec. 4 at 3 p.m., at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History where the book will be for sale. Admission is suggested at $5. The book is available at many Bay Area Borders stores and at Amazon.com.

    Stephen R. Palumbi is Director of the Hopkins Marine Station and the Harold A. Miller Professor of Marine Science at Stanford University. Carolyn Sotka manages science and policy outreach for NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Oceans and Human Health Initiative (OHHI).

    For more information, see www.deathandlifemontereybay.org.

    The Death and Life Of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival
    By Stephen R. Palumbi and Carolyn Sotka
    Island Press Hardcover, Copyright 2010
    ISBN: 978-1-59726-435-8
    $26.95

    posted to Cedar Street Times on November 28, 2010

    Topics: Current Edition, Front PG News, Marge Ann Jameson

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