Heal the Bay Blog

SEPTEMBER 13, 1967 – SEPTEMBER 15, 2023

It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the passing of Mark Abramson. He was a tremendous force for nature and integral to many of Heal the Bay’s cornerstone programs.  Mark was a wonderful character with an extraordinary record of accomplishments and accolades.

But rather than simply listing them here, we are turning today’s blog over to Mark Gold, former president and CEO of Heal the Bay.  Mark joins us to describe “Abe”, as he was affectionately called, and his incredible influence and work to mold the Heal the Bay we are today. In the words of Mark Gold:

“In the mid 1990’s, Mark came to me at Heal the Bay as an accounting student at Pepperdine.  He was ‘bored out of his skull’ and wanted to do something to help out the Bay.  And he expressed a strong dislike of polluters because of what they had done to the Bay, creeks and rivers that he grew up in.  So, as the nurturing soul that you all know me to be, I gave him a horrible task as an intern – to review stormwater permit annual reports for all 88 cities in the County and to write a report on their compliance status.  Any normal person would have tapped out and bailed on such a task.  Abe stayed for another 12 years!!  After his internship, he went on to get his master’s degree in landscape architecture from Cal Poly Pomona.  That was a commute.  One of the cool and innovative parts of their master’s program was that you had to complete a group project thesis for a client: in this case – Heal the Bay.  Abe being Abe, he got his three partners including Eileen Takata, a mainstay as the watershed and EJ conscience at the Army Corps, to work on the project.  In typical audacious fashion, Abe got the team to create the Malibu Creek Watershed StreamTeam, which turned into the premier volunteer watershed monitoring program in the state.  The comprehensive program had monthly water quality monitoring for nutrients, fecal indicator bacteria (FIB), pH, dissolved oxygen (DO) and other contaminants, sediment macroinvertebrate biodiversity sampling, and the most audacious component – mapping the entire Malibu Creek and its tributaries for physical changes and stream health in the creek.  They mapped all the creeks in a 109 square mile watershed.

Every time you are in this watershed, thank Mark.  That data was instrumental in so many environmental wins.  He treated this watershed as if it was a family member.  He did anything and everything for it.  StreamTeam data led to pollutant and discharge reductions from the Tapia water recycling facility.  Thanks Abe. As the eyes and ears of the watershed, Abe provided critical information that led to multiple enforcement actions at the Coastal Commission and the Regional Water Board.  Thanks Abe. Ahmanson Ranch never would have been saved without him.  First of all, he convinced me that we needed to make this supposed “lost cause” a Heal the Bay priority.  This was after he mapped the creeks on the parcel in a clandestine manner – I remember his excitement about the red legged frogs’ grotto like it was yesterday.  Then we had to convince our board to oppose a development for the first time in organizational history!  The end result was partnering with Mary Weisbrock, Mati Waiya, Ventura County, Rob Reiner, Chad Griffin, Chris Albrecht and many others to stop the destruction of the headwaters of the Malibu Creek watershed – 10,000 people and 2 golf courses.  Thanks Abe.  And thanks Governor Davis for investing $150M for the permanent preservation of the Ranch. All those steelhead migration barriers removed in Solstice, Malibu Creek and other locales, nature based BMPs built, 101 wildlife underpass landscaped, and tens of acres of riparian habitats restored. Thanks Abe.

And thanks Mike Rowe and Dirty Jobs for highlighting Abe’s work.   And finally – Malibu Lagoon.  Or Mark’s Lagoon as he viewed it.  From restoration design, to nature-based parking lot construction to the CEQA process to withstanding mean-spirited, vitriolic opposition, to construction, to planting to monitoring.  Abe was leading every step of the way at Heal the Bay, LA Waterkeeper and the Bay Foundation.  Magnificent work.  Thank you, Abe.

But Abe was so much more than a landscape architect and practicing restoration ecologist.  He was a larger-than-life figure with an irreverent sense of humor, a loud, booming voice, infectious laugh, enormous stubborn streak, strong ethics, generous spirit, opinions about everything, and tireless dedication.  Mark Abramson was a doer, not a talker. He could spot BS from a mile away.  And then he’d call it out.  As his boss, he was unmanageable, but with all he accomplished, who cares?  And his army of volunteers were as dedicated and loyal as he was.

Former LA Times journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Kenneth R. Weiss, summed up Abe in a profile article as, “Nothing seems to intimidate this espresso-guzzling, Marlboro-smoking, Altoid popping eco-cop in cargo shorts. Not the poison oak or stinging nettles that block his path to the creek. Not slogging through tainted water. Not accusations of trespassing (from the former Ahmanson Ranch development team) when he follows the creek to someone’s property.” Abe – we miss you.  I’ll miss you yelling out “Goldie!!”.  We will all miss that big laugh.  We will miss sharing a beer and reminiscing about the good fight. We will miss your F-bombs and passion for protecting Santa Monica Bay and the Santa Monicas.  We’ll miss your inimitable style of a broad brimmed hat, cargo shorts, a T, wool socks and hiking boots. We will miss that big heart.  But we will remember you always – every time we set foot in Ahmanson Ranch or Malibu Lagoon. Abe’s Lagoon.”



The Acorn-Conservation icon is memorialized in Malibu

Los Angeles TIMES -Mark Abramson, towering figure who helped shape L.A.-area environment, dies at 56

UPSTRACT -Mark Abramson, towering figure who helped shape L.A.-area environment, dies at 56










(From left) Jeff Williams, Andrea Kabwasa, and Rick Blocker attend Nick Gabaldón Day at Bay Street Beach — June 18, 2022.

CELEBRATING OUR 10TH YEAR in partnership with Black Surfers Collective (BSC) and The Surf Bus Foundation, we only have to thank Rick Blocker. For over 50 years Rick has been a powerful advocate for diversity and inclusion in surfing. Rick is an original member of the Black Surfing Association.

Fifteen years ago Heal the Bay had a table next to BSC at community resource fair at the Crenshaw Mall. I had the privilege of meeting him then. We got to talking about beach access and how to diversify the beach. He told me about what the Collective had started with Nick Gabaldón Day. I told him, Heal the Bay has an Aquarium, bus money, and a lot to learn. He said, “your hired”.

He arranged a meeting with African American historian Alison Rose Jefferson as well as Jeff Williams and Greg Rachal from the Black Surfers Collective, and the rest is a joyous history. I am eternally grateful and humbled to stand with this group.

Check out more photos and stories from Nick Gabaldón Day 2022.

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Nick Gabaldón Day celebrates the incredible life and legacy of the first documented surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay. Gabaldón (1927-1951) was a pioneering surfer of African American and Mexican American descent whose passion, athleticism, discipline, love, and respect for the ocean live on as the quintessential qualities of the California surfer.  This year, Black Surfers Collective, Heal the Bay, Surf Bus Foundation, Santa Monica Conservancy, Color the Water, and devoted community members gathered at the Historic Bay Street Beach to honor these tenets followed by a screening of Wade in the Water and story time at Heal the Bay Aquarium.

Join us in sending a big wave of thanks to our 2022 sponsors:

Thanks to the Tuesday Night Ultimate Frisbee Group affiliated with LA Throwback Foundation, folks that are interested promoting civic engagement and history through sports, for funding support of Nick Gabaldón Day.

Written By Meredith McCarthy. Heal the Bay’s long time Programs Director has recently shifted to the Director of Operations. Meredith now oversees the organizational health and wellbeing of all programs and staff. As an avid scuba diver she has seen firsthand what putting too much in, taking too much out and ignoring the edge of the ocean has done to our coastal systems.

Image from STAND-L.A. Facebook page

Meredith McCarthy, Operations Director at Heal the Bay, highlights the STAND-L.A. coalition and why the City of LA must take action now to protect public health and the environment, including investing in good green jobs, protecting our children’s health, buffering communities and phasing out fossil fuels.

The STAND-L.A. coalition is urging Los Angeles City Hall to take action by implementing public health protection measures, including a 2,500-foot setback between active oil wells and sensitive land uses, such as homes, schools, places of work and medical facilities. The coalition, led by Physicians for Social Responsibility and Communities for a Better Environment, seeks to phase out neighborhood drilling in order to protect the health and safety of Angelenos on the front lines of oil extraction. Low-income neighborhoods are exposed to disproportionate health and safety risks due to a history of abundant drilling within close proximity to where residents live, work and go about daily life.

Heal the Bay proudly stands in solidarity with STAND-L.A. Oil extraction is simply incompatible with healthy neighborhoods, thriving oceans and a sustainable future for our planet.

We know firsthand that fighting Big Oil is a heavy lift. Years ago, Heal the Bay helped lead a coalition that defeated a slant drilling oil project under the sea in Hermosa Beach. Now, we cannot sit back satisfied that we prevented an oil rig in the ocean only to see it turn up in a neighborhood.

We joined the STAND-L.A. coalition at City Hall on Tuesday, October 15 for the Energy, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice Committee hearing. The Committee reviewed the City’s Petroleum Administrator’s feasibility report on the proposed setbacks between oil sites and sensitive land uses. The report suggested a 600-foot setback for existing oil and gas wells and a 1,500-foot setback for new wells. Coalition members argued this doesn’t go far enough, and rightly so.

Having lived through many environmental policy campaigns—where industries claimed that our economy would collapse and jobs would be lost if we banned plastic bags, cleaned up stormwater or prevented sewage from dumping into the Bay—I expected a similar argument to justify continuing to drill. So I was not surprised as I listened to testimony at City Hall that the pressing issue of drilling in our neighborhoods, once again, was being framed as a binary debate between “good jobs” versus “healthy neighborhoods”.

The coalition argued that this foolish debate will never be won by prioritizing one issue over the other. Environmental and public health risks won’t be solved either. We can only make progress by thinking about the issue holistically – investing in good green jobs now weans us off our harmful addiction to oil. Protecting our children’s health now leads to a more equitable future. Buffering communities now builds a more resilient LA. Phasing out fossil fuels now creates new job and economic opportunities… and not to mention a more sustainable planet that’s facing increasingly severe impacts from climate change.

Time and time again, Los Angeles has made bold moves to protect public and environmental health. But, what happens when cities can’t afford to buy a healthy environment from oil drilling lease holders to protect its residents, or worse, cities choose to ignore the damage being done? This is the question that the City of LA is grappling with. Will we invest in long-term sustainability or will city leaders be tempted by temporary job gains and the promise of future revenue?

It’s important to make the connection to plastics here, too. What do plastics and fossil fuels have in common, you ask? The plastics industry uses as much oil as aviation. So when we think about oil drilling in neighborhoods, we must also think about why we are drilling there in the first place.

The more cheap energy and cheap plastic material we use, the more waste we generate and the greater the environmental costs. The search for profit has turned a blind eye to the burdens and costs of poor air and water quality that low-resourced neighborhoods must carry.

Plastics use is expected to quadruple by 2050. In 30 years, the weight of plastics is likely to outweigh that of fish in our ocean. Plastic waste is already having a profound impact on oceans and marine life. It is found inside animals throughout the ocean food chain, from mussels to sea turtles to whales, and is likely to end up in the human food chain. These are the conclusions from a new report released at Davos by the World Economics Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and consultancy firm McKinsey.

Environmental costs translate directly into economic costs. We can’t afford inaction and we can’t ignore the negative impacts on our communities, from blight to toxic air.

Please take a second to call or email your City Council representative and demand good jobs AND a healthy neighborhood. Insist that our region start working toward not just a new economy, but a new generative economy. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and a 2,500-foot setback.

Follow STAND L.A. on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and watch this hashtag for updates #NoDrillingWhereWereLiving.

Meredith McCarthy, our Operations Director, is going plastic-free for 46 days. Pray for her soul.

Each year my faith tradition gives me the gift of a 46-day reflection period called Lent. I think of it as a spring cleaning of the soul. The season starts today, Ash Wednesday. The ashes are a sign of repentance, humility and mortality. Through the placement of the ashes on the forehead, believers acknowledge we have failed to be agents of love. We acknowledge our sins and work towards renewal.

Fasting is also big part of Lent. Going without feasts has its roots in early Christian tradition. As a child in Chicago, I’d often have to give up candy, making it a truly miserable month. I thought about giving up my nightly glass of wine this Lent, for a moment. Nah, let’s not go crazy, I thought.

But divine inspiration came from appropriate places this year – the Creation Care teams at Holy Family in Pasadena and American Martyrs in Manhattan Beach. I had been asked by the Catholic congregations to give a talk about plastic’s impact on our oceans. The parishes are encouraging their congregants to go on a Styrofoam fast and give up single-use plastic for lent. It’s part of a larger movement taking place across many faith communities.

As Director of Operations at Heal the Bay, I have stood hundreds of times ankle deep in plastic on our beach. It’s moved me to tears at times. You can see what I discovered recently on Santa Monica beaches after the first winter storm in this video.

All this plastic waste laying siege to our shorelines doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the sad byproduct of our daily “feast” of convenience. As a working mother of two, I too often partake in this feast. I am busy and tired most of the time. Using the handy excuse of harried motherhood, I have tried to absolve myself. But my faith and my planet require more. There may be no better way to renew my relationship with Mother Earth than to take responsibility for my lifestyle and the harm it may cause.

“We cannot allow our seas and oceans to be littered by endless fields of floating plastic,” Pope Francis said in Laudato Si, his major encyclical on the environment. “Our active commitment is needed to confront this emergency.”

So in order to be an agent of love, my family and I are giving up single-use plastic for the next 46 days. We have our metal sporks, plates and reusable coffee cups ready to go. I still have to  Google “how to shave legs with a safety razor,” but that’s a story for another day.

Stay tuned. I will be sharing my trials and tribulations. I’ll be toting a lot of reusable items for the family with me now. I think we’re going to need a bigger handbag!