Heal the Bay Blog

Author: Randi Parent

Participating in our biggest volunteer event is guaranteed to lift your spirits, writes aquarium staffer and veteran organizer Randi Parent.

This will be my 13th year as a Heal the Bay staff member rolling up my sleeves to organize our biggest volunteer event of the year — Coastal Cleanup Day — on Saturday Sept. 16. (I should be logging No. 14, but taking my daughter to college was the priority a few years back.)

It’s a day of big numbers: half a million people around the globe, volunteering to tidy up their favorite park, stream, lake or shoreline. Millions of pounds of debris picked up, documented, bagged and disposed of, all within a few hours on a Saturday morning by folks in 112 countries. Heal the Bay has historically organized coastal and inland sites in L.A. County, welcoming up to 20,000 volunteers spread out at cleanup locations from Malibu to Compton.

I usually help mobilize our biggest site, next to the Santa Monica Pier, where we’ve sent more than 2,000 people out along the beach. But I’ve also assisted at much smaller inland cleanups, where the power of a few community groups spreading out along a concrete-lined riverbed makes everyone feel mighty, as they weigh their garbage haul at the end of the morning.

For this year’s event – which runs from 9 a.m. to noon – it’s exciting to hear we’ll be including several locations around the county where active wetlands restoration is in progress.

Volunteers are removing invasive plants that choke waterways and they’re removing the trash that accumulates in the overgrowth too – a win-win for the native plants and animals that depend on these riparian habitats for their survival. These sites – LAX Dunes and Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve in Playa del Rey, Medea Creek in Agoura Hills and Alta Vicente Reserve in Rancho Palos Verde — all offer an opportunity to become involved with an ongoing restoration project.

But no matter the size, scope or location of the cleanup, there’s been one constant in my 13 Coastal Cleanup Days with Heal the Bay: the genuine feeling of satisfaction and connection I receive after spending a morning with community members, school groups, families and individuals who really care. In a world full of dysfunction and strife, we gather for a simple task that makes a world of difference. On one Saturday in September, we can all make a small corner of this planet that much cleaner and healthier. It may sound corny, but it’s a very powerful moment.

I look forward to meeting you at the Pier cleanup site this year. But there are many more to choose from! Please register today.

Heal the Bay, in association with, is hosting a unique pop-up event at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium on Jan. 26. Here, the Aquarium’s outreach manager Randi Parent reveals a sneak peak of the evening’s exciting lineup.

What better setting for an evening entitled: “Life Aquatic – Ocean Dwellers + Storytellers,” than the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium?

On Thursday, January 26, in association with, Heal the Bay is hosting a lively, local group of storytellers ready to share unscripted tales inspired by their personal connections to the ocean. Musical improv and the Aquarium’s tanks teeming with marine life serve as the perfect accompaniment for this unique pop-up storytelling event.

Snag your event tickets while space is still available. All proceeds benefit Heal the Bay., which produces the pop-up storytelling event series has revealed part of the lineup for our event on Jan 26th, including the following speakers and musicians.

Sneak Peek: Lineup for “Life Aquatic – Ocean Dwellers + Storytellers”

Jeff Ho

Take a cultural trip back to Santa Monica’s “Dogtown” days with storyteller Jeff Ho, Santa Monica’s legendary surfboard manufacturer and creator of the Zephyr skate team.

Marion Clark

Join Marion Clark of Surf Academy and Surf Bus Foundation, as she takes us to the powerful waves of the North Shore to accept an unexpected invitation.

Gregory Bonann, Two Days After “The Rescue” In 1989.

Hear 47-year LA County Lifeguard and Baywatch co-creator Gregory Bonann’s story, as he takes us back to an unforgettable tour of local beaches, while he introduced the original team of Baywatch writers to the world of lifeguarding, and how he ended up earning the Medal of Valor.

Michelle Packman

Add a few more awesome storytellers and ace musicians – including cellist and LA/OC teacher Michelle Packman, singer and songwriter Kira Lingman, as well as Jim “Kimo” West, famous for his slack key guitar playing, and his 30 years playing with “Weird Al” Yankovic – and this will be an evening of eclectic, surprising, and inspiring experiences not to be missed.

Tickets are $20, with all proceeds going to Heal the Bay. Space is limited, so please RSVP in advance.

January 19, 2016 — Aquarium Outreach Manager Randi Parent can’t hide her soft spot for her newest officemate: Our baby giant black sea bass!

“Baby giant” seems like a contradiction in terms, but when it comes to the latest fish on exhibit at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, it is accurate. Under a year old and just shy of two inches long, our giant black sea bass, Stereolepis gigas, has a long way to go to live up to its name. But when it reaches maturity at between 13-15 years of age, this critically endangered species can reach seven feet in length and weigh upward of 500 pounds. It’s hard to equate this tiny, brownish-orange fish with oversized fins and dark spots with the much darker gentle giants (one diver’s blog refers to them as “aquatic Volkswagens”) that hang out in groups around kelp beds just off the coast, but they really are the same species.

Giant black sea bass are also described as so chill a diver can hand feed them – a trait that meant they were nearly fished to extinction by the late 1970’s. In 1982 the sport fishing of these big lugs was banned and a few years later gill netting of the species was also outlawed. Now, marine biologists are working to determine the success of these protections, and our Aquarium’s baby giant black sea bass is part of this unfolding story of wildlife conservation.

When researchers from Cal State Northridge and the Monterey Bay Aquarium approached senior aquarist José Bacallao about holding on to one of a handful of babies collected recently along the Southern California coast, he jumped at the chance. It turned out the researchers were “tipped off” by biologist and photographer Michael Couffer, who made an unannounced, stealth visit to the Aquarium the previous week to determine whether we were baby giant sea bass-worthy.  And naturally, we were!

Couffer will return each month to chronicle the fish’s growth, also recording any changes in its color scheme–paying particular attention to its dark spots. Are they unique markers? Can these spots be used to identify a particular giant sea bass throughout its life? The goal is to record a full life history of these giant fish and show the importance of conservation in preserving the species. Couffer can discuss at length the spawning habits of the adults, coloration changes and behavior of the juveniles along the sandy bottom in the most scientific terms. But even a seasoned biologist had to resort to an unscientific, one-word description of our newest fish: cute.

You can visit this adorable fish at the Aquarium Tuesday-Friday from 2-5pm, and weekends from 12:30-5. Count its spots and watch for updates!

From this…To this!
Baby giant black sea bass by Michael CoufferGiant black sea bass