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Heal the Bay Blog

Author: Laura Rink

Usually this time of year, we are hosting our annual volunteer party (and eating donuts!) to celebrate Super Healers – an elite squad of Heal the Bay volunteers who have gone above and beyond. Even though we still can’t gather, we still can recognize and thank our volunteers. Let’s celebrate our 2021 Super Healers!

The past year was full of adversity and challenges. As our physical doors closed in March of 2020, Heal the Bay’s work never stopped. Even during times of uncertainty, it was no surprise that our connected and passionate community of volunteers continued to help out in a big way.

Although we are unable to gather all together for our annual volunteer recognition party, all of the staff at Heal the Bay felt it of the utmost importance to recognize the people we so greatly rely on to keep our ship smoothly sailing. From the depth of the ocean, we thank each and every one of of volunteers for your dedication and support.

Aquarium Aquarist Volunteers: Rachel Watson, Nadya Sharif, CJ Leede, and Elina Babay

The 2020 pandemic led to the Heal the Bay offices closing and the Heal the Bay Aquarium closing its doors to the public. However, during this time of masks and social distancing, there was one population that remained unaffected and (clearly) flippant about any of these health regulations – the fishes, crabs, sea stars, and local aquatic species of the Santa Monica Bay housed at Heal the Bay Aquarium. Despite LA County closures, these incredible animals still required daily care and support by the essential workers of Heal the Bay. With such strict limitations, it is without a doubt that we were able to uphold such world class care because of an All-Star team of volunteers that fared the tumultuous seas to help out. Rachel Watson, Nadya Sharif, CJ Leede, and Elina Babay deserve the highest recognition and Giant Squid sized gratitude for their dedication, hard work and passion in supporting the livelihood of the animals at Heal the Bay Aquarium. On behalf of Heal the Bay, myself (Laura Rink – Associate Director of Ops), and all the fishes of the deep blue sea, we give great thanks and appreciation.

Education Volunteers: Laura Schare and Crystal Sandoval

Extra special thanks to our rock star Education volunteers, Laura Schare and Crystal Sandoval (also a past intern), for continuously providing support from in-person field trips at the beginning of the year, through virtual camp programs, and now virtual field trips. Laura also helped put together and deliver one of our Knowledge Drops presentations on Community Science. She helped teach about iNaturalist, the City Nature Challenge, and how community science can help inspire everyday people to learn more about nature and science in genera.

Beach Programs: Club Heal the Bay at Santa Monica High School

Club Heal the Bay at SAMOHI is a student-led club dedicated to protect the health of our local shoreline and watersheds. Steps they’ve taken toward this goal include conducting beach cleanups, discussing the reduction of their carbon footprints, fundraising for reusable sanitary products, informing students about sorting out waste, and advocating for a stronger MS4 permit.

MPA Watch: John Wells

Since joining Heal the Bay’s MPA Watch Program in February 2020, John has conducted over 140 MPA Watch surveys, accounting for nearly HALF the total surveys completed last year! We are so grateful and fortunate to have this increased attention to our MPAs at a time when we have an exceptional need to record unprecedented changes in human recreational and consumptive behavior in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you so much John for your contribution, we couldn’t have done it without you!

A little more about this All Star:
John Wells has lived in four states, two of which are located near the ocean: Arizona, California, New York, and Colorado. When everyone else was moving in the opposite direction, John moved back to Los Angeles from Colorado Springs upon retirement in 2018. He earned degrees in Biochemistry from Cal State LA and UCLA, and ever the environmentalist, he worked as a chemical analyst measuring EPA Priority Pollutants in the 1980’s. More recently he explored careers in grounds and building maintenance and instruction in school bus driving. Due to a love of hiking and the great outdoors, the MPA Watch program is a natural fit for him, and the MPA Watch program remains an excellent source of safe, outdoor activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. He doesn’t consider performing MPA Watch survey’s a “work,” as he greatly enjoys doing them.

Speakers Bureau: David A. Weeshoff

After retiring in 2005, Dave became a volunteer at International Bird Rescue in San Pedro, CA where he assists in the care of sick and injured aquatic birds and directly observes the impacts of poor water quality on their health.

In February 2006, he joined the Speaker’s Bureau to address ocean pollution issues with audiences ranging from pre-school through adults, and has done so for over 21,000 people. He was a Regional Stakeholder and helped design the Marine Protected Areas off the Southern California coast.

He has traveled to the Arctic, Antarctic, and many other bird habitats worldwide, and shares his photos including penguins, whales, turtles, and polar bears with audiences to highlight the impacts of pollution on our natural world.

  • Site Captain each Coastal Cleanup Day 2015 through 2020
  • Awarded SuperHealer Award for 2006
  • Awarded Jean Howell Award 2009

Science & Policy: Michelle Allen


Michelle Allen has been crucial in maintaining momentum for our LA River camera trapping project in partnership with SAMO and the NPS in 2020 and again in 2021. A dedicated volunteer, Michelle began with Heal the Bay in 2018 as part of the summer Stream Team where they collected water quality samples at two sites in Malibu with another exceptional Heal the Bay volunteer, Christina Huggs. The two made a great community science team and went on to explore another Heal the Bay science program, wildlife camera trapping along the LA River! Again, Michelle’s reliability and enthusiasm for science shown bright to keep our data collection going, even during the most unprecedented times. You are truly a pleasure to work with Michelle and we couldn’t have done it without you! We are so grateful and you continue to make such a positive impression on so many of us at Heal the Bay.

A little more about this All Star:
Starting as a student at CSUN, Michelle worked at Heal the Bay during the summer seasons under Dr. Katherine Pease on the  Stream Team program collecting samples for water quality in the Malibu Creek area for the River Report card. Now finished with her B.S. in Environmental and Occupational Health and a minor in Sustainability, she works part time and interns for Food and Water Watch on the Take Back the Tap program. She is a Fellow and works with a few different schools all around the country to ban single-use plastic bottles on campuses. Michelle wants to make as much a difference in her community and get as involved in any way in all things environmental. In her free time, she loves to run, dance, go on long hikes, and spend time with loved ones whenever she can. Podcasts are what she listens to while she cleans her house. And, her very cute fluffy kitty’s name is Tamale.

Shout out to those volunteer educators who led or co-led our some of our Knowledge Drop sessions! Stiv Wilson, Dave Weeshoff, Shona Ganguly, Tom Ford, Dana Muray, John Dorsey, Laura Schare, and Brook Peterson.

Meet last year’s Super Healers.



Laura Rink, Heal the Bay Aquarium’s Associate Director of Operations, deepens our understanding of biofluorescence in the Santa Monica Bay and shares how local ocean animals get their glow on.

When you think about a rainbow, what comes to mind?

A beautiful archway of color after a rain? A favorite multi-colored candy? A representation of equality for all? Or perhaps the engrained acronym from early childhood, ROY G BIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet)?

Regardless of what comes to mind, one thing holds true: the colors of the rainbow are what make up visible light. This fact, however, does not hold true as one enters the world beneath the waves of the ocean. In many instances, ocean animals have the unique capability to see what humans consider to be invisible light, illuminating their world in a unique and fascinating way.

Light greatly governs our lives (think sunrises, sunsets, light bulbs, traffic lights, and rocking out to the song “Blinded by the Light”). Light also plays a large role in the life of ocean animals. 

Frequently, ocean animals use light as a form of adaptation for recognition, protection, or attraction. A commonly known use of light in the ocean is called bioluminescence. Examples of bioluminescence include firefly butts, glowing algae, and that oogey boogey fish of the deep that uses a light lure dangling from the top of its head to attract unsuspecting prey. This type of glow adaptation is a chemical process animals use to create light. See the most recent example of bioluminescence in the Santa Monica Bay in April 2020.

More recently scientists have discovered a variety of ocean animals with a protein in their skin that reflects ultraviolet light through a process called biofluorescence. How this works is the protein in the animal’s skin absorbs low energy ultraviolet blue light from the sun and reflects it at a higher energy, resulting in either a green or red fluorescent glow. This is similar to how the ink of a highlighter glows as you streak it across a textbook page, emphasizing a sentence you need to remember for a pop quiz later.

What animals might use this illuminating process, you wonder?

If we dive into the Santa Monica Bay and other Pacific Ocean areas in Southern California we find swell sharks, spiny lobsters, Kellett’s whelk snails, and a large variety of anemones who all get their glow on.   

Although the specific reason that each species glows is not entirely certain, scientists hypothesize that some ocean animals, such as swell sharks, use this process to help identify individuals. Sort of like the identifying spots on a cheetah or a unique birthmark on a human, only much brighter.

Why has it taken scientists so long to discover the biofluorescent glow of ocean animals? Most human eyes are only capable of seeing the colors of light from the rainbow and cannot see the glow of bioluminescence without some extra help. Through the use of a strong ultraviolet light source and blue light blocking lenses, humans are able to see the glow that certain types of ocean animals naturally see with their uniquely adapted eyesight.

If you would like an opportunity to see ocean animals glow and learn more about this dazzling process, stay tuned for our Heal the Bay Aquarium special night event series: “Go With the Glow”*. Guests can take a tour of our Aquarium’s darkened gallery to see the spectacle of biofluorescence in the ocean.

*Our Go With the Glow event series is postponed to accommodate physical distancing and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Please sign up for our next event dates on July 3 and September 4.



Ever wonder what it’s like to be an Aquarist at Heal the Bay Aquarium? Laura Rink, Associate Aquarium Director of Operations, spills on a day in the life.

A jack (fish) of all trades is a fitting description for what it takes to run the operations of a Heal the Bay Aquarium under the Santa Monica Pier.

Sometimes it feels like everything under the sun (fish) can be required. From filthy filters, to growing baby jellies, to system designs and adventures on our beloved Dorothy Green Boat, there is never a dull day.

While the day-to-day operations are ever changing, the purpose remains clear and constant. My job is to create and maintain exhibits for aquatic animals with the mission to inspire a world filled with humans who care about protecting wildlife and conserve our natural resources to allow diverse species to thrive.


Laura Rink presents at the PBS Nature event on July 30, 2019. Photos by Rahoul Ghose/PBS

Although rare, it is sometimes requested that we bring our animal ambassadors to offsite locations. This occasion presented itself recently when I traveled with our East Pacific Red Octopus to a PBS Nature event.

Fondly referred to as the “cats” of the cephalopods, octopuses are notorious for choosing to be social, if, and only if, they so desire to be. Fortunately, on this occasion she embraced the audience with all eight arms, showing how enriching the experience was for both her and the humans who encountered her.

If you’d like to learn more about the marine animals that call the SoCal coast home, come visit us at Heal the Bay Aquarium and sign up for our next Volunteer Orientation to go behind-the-scenes.

All fish puns are entirely intended with the nerdiest of intents.