Heal the Bay Blog

Category: About Us

Nov. 4, 2014 — We’ve got some exciting news to share: Veteran environmental advocate Sarah Abramson Sikich has been promoted to vice president of Heal the Bay.

Sikich, who most recently served as our Director of Science and Policy for Coastal Resources, will now focus on broadening Heal the Bay’s partnerships with diverse stakeholders to improve water quality and ocean health throughout Southern California. As a longtime marine scientist, she will be charged with broadening applied research to better inform our numerous policy efforts.

The promotion completes a recent management restructuring, which saw Alix Hobbs appointed president and CEO in September.

“Sarah brings scientific credibility, years of institutional knowledge and tireless passion to all that Heal the Bay does,” Hobbs said. “She will be a great partner as we embark on our next 10-year strategic plan.” 

Sikich, who joined Heal the Bay in 2005, has led several successful campaigns for Heal the Bay during her tenure. She worked with the state to design and implement a network of Marine Protected Areas in Southern California; advanced a policy to phase out harmful once-through cooling technology at coastal power plants in California; and successfully advocated for policies preventing plastic pollution, such as the recent statewide plastic bag ban.

“It’s an exciting time for Heal the Bay,” said Sikich, “With our 30th anniversary in 2015, we have the opportunity to reflect on the major water quality and ocean health improvements that have been made in the Santa Monica Bay over the past few decades, while charting a new course to address emerging challenges and threats.”

Heal the Bay’s Science and Policy Department has led several water quality improvement efforts over the past five years, including the adoption of landmark regional water quality regulations, predictive modeling research for beach water quality, and measures to advance low impact development in the Los Angeles County area, which will clean up local waters and enhance local water supply.

In the coming year, we’ll address a number of growing threats to our local environment, including a need for integrated water management to improve water quality and local water supply, fighting to keep oil drilling out of Hermosa Beach, and research and planning efforts to help local communities adapt to climate change.

As a result of the promotion, Heal the Bay is in the process of hiring a Science and Policy Director to oversee the department’s advocacy, policy and government relations.  The position will report to Sikich.

 Sikich has a master’s degree from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UCSB and a bachelor’s degree in Marine and Freshwater Biology from the University of New Hampshire. Before joining Heal the Bay, she worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, and Catalina Island Marine Institute. 

                     Sikich, right, helped lead Heal the Bay’s successful push to implement plastic bag ban in L.A.

Programs director Meredith McCarthy says the shared history of L.A.’s beaches isn’t always black and white.

“History is messy.” That’s what local historian Alison Rose Jefferson told me when we started planning a day to honor Nick Gabaldón. By designating a day to commemorate Nick, we celebrate our shorelines and also recognize the struggle for equality of beach access. In the post-WWII years, Nick became the first documented surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay. With our partners the Black Surfers Collective and SurfBus, we are again celebrating his passion and legacy on Saturday, June 14, at Bay Street beach in Santa Monica.

In honor of Nick, we are offering free surf lessons and beach exploration with Heal the Bay naturalists and docents from the Santa Monica Conservancy. In the afternoon, there will be free admission to our Aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier. No cleanups, just fun – especially for children visiting from underserved inland communities, many of whom have never even seen the ocean, let alone surfed it. We want people to understand how special Nick Gabaldón was and the incredible backstory of Bay Street. 

Referred to by many whites as “the Inkwell,” Bay Street beach was a safe haven for local African American beachgoers during a time of de facto segregation. I told Alison I didn’t feel right mentioning “the Inkwell” on the flyer announcing Nick Gabaldón Day. “People need to know their history,” she said, and spoke of the importance of remembering places with ugly names—especially as our society continues to grapple with issues surrounding race and ethnicity.

As a young man of African American and Mexican American descent, Nick faced many challenges learning to surf in Jim Crow America, but none of them stopped him from getting into the water. Since he didn’t have access to a car for many years—and you just didn’t see a black man carrying a surfboard on a bus to Malibu in 1949—Nick would sometimes paddle the 12 miles to his favorite spot in the lineup at Surfrider. His grueling trek forces us to recognize how far we’ve come on our shorelines—and how far asea we were when we started. (Tragically, Nick died surfing the Malibu breaks he loved in 1951.)

After watching a documentary about Nick’s life called “12 Miles North: The Nick Gabaldón Story,” I was ready to jump on a board and join the paddle-out for Nick at our inaugural event last year. There was just one problem, though. I can’t surf. I am terrible at it. But by helping to organize Nick Gabaldón Day, I hope I’m doing my part to link people together in a meaningful way.

It’s time to face the messiness of our shared past and address the fact that 70% of African Americans can’t swim. I want to undo all that fear and ignorance that promulgates the misperception that the beach isn’t for everyone. The beach belongs to all of us, and I face the guilt and the ignorance with hope in my heart.

Please join us on June 14 to paddle out for Nick. Or, you can join me on the beach, where I’ll be standing and cheering.


Every minute we spent advocating for shark fin and plastic bag bans. Every piece of trash we picked up in our communities. Every student we led to the beach for the day. At the end of the year when we reflect on all that we accomplished, we are mindful that none of it would have been possible without the support of our network of donors, volunteers and supporters. Thank you! Take a look at what you helped get done this year:



Seeking more ways to make an impact? Partner with us as we head into 2014!

Since 1985, we’ve partnered with people like you – volunteers, supporters and sustainers — to make Southern Californian waters safer, healthier and cleaner. And 2014 will prove no different.

As another year closes, it’s a good time to reflect, but also to look ahead to the challenges we’ll face in 2014.

Here’s our working list of the goals we’ve set for the coming year:

  • Uphold the moratorium on oil drilling off the South Bay coast. Hard to believe, but the risks from offshore oil drilling could once again become a threat to the health of our local waters. Voters in Hermosa Beach will decide In March 2015 whether to allow energy company E&B Natural Resources to conduct slant-drilling operations off the Hermosa shoreline. Heal the Bay, in partnership with Stop Hermosa Beach Oil, Keep Hermosa hermosa, and the Surfrider Foundation — will mobilize community support to protect our Bay throughout 2014.
  • Support strict limits on a planned string of ocean-based desalination plants along the California coast. If unchecked, these plants could suck in massive quantities of seawater — and marine life — to meet our region’s ever-growing demand for water.
  • Advocate for a regional funding measure that would underwrite numerous multi-benefit, clean-water projects throughout the Los Angeles region.
  • Protect marine life. Coastal oil drilling, power and water desalination plants sucking in sea water, and sonar blasts from Navy operations all harm marine mammals and represent just a handful of the upcoming threats that we’ll be watching closely in the next year.
  • Build a community park in South Los Angeles that will capture and infiltrate stormwater, as well as provide much-needed open space and fitness opportunities. Heal the Bay’s Healthy Neighborhoods team is overseeing the $1.3 million project, which is funded by California State Parks. It will serve as a model of how communities can work together to improve their neighborhoods while protecting the health of the Bay.
  • Implement a plan to mitigate the effects of climate change. Working together, our Science & Policy and Programs teams are reaching out to local communities to educate Angelenos about the simple steps they can take to adapt to climate change, such as capturing and reusing rainwater and planting drought-tolerant gardens.
  • Prime the next generation of eco stewards with the expansion of our Youth Summit programs for high school students throughout L.A. County, as well as expanding our field trip and speakers programs serving local classrooms.
  • Assemble a new predictive modeling tool that will determine water quality much faster than traditional sampling, which can take 24 hours. Working with Stanford University, we hope to predict bacteria levels at an initial set of 25 California beaches via our Beach Report Card®, identify specific sources of pollution in the watershed and better understand new threats, such as an increased number of vineyards in the Santa Monica Mountains.
  • Increase data collection for newly established Marine Protected Areas in Palos Verdes and Point Dume.
  • Strengthen community partnerships. Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium staff looks forward to curating education events for the Pier and working closely with Santa Monica officials on plans for the Pier bridge replacement project.

We don’t take clean water for granted, and we know you don’t either. Sustain our work: Make a donation to Heal the Bay.

Orca breaching Donate Now Become a Member of Heal the Bay

It all adds up. Every minute we spent advocating for shark fin and plastic bag bans. Every piece of trash we picked up in our communities. Every student we led to the beach for the day. At the end of the year when we reflect on all that we accomplished, we are mindful that none of it would have been possible without the support of our network of donors, volunteers and supporters. Thank you! Take a look at what you helped get done this year:

  • 10,000 anglers engaged directly about the dangers of con­suming certain fish caught off local waters.

Seeking more ways to make an impact? Partner with us as we head into 2014!


November’s Nothin’ But Sand broke Heal the Bay’s record for the most participants at one of our monthly volunteer cleanups. What a way to end 2013!

Some 1,111 participants picked up 210 pounds of ocean-bound trash at Will Rogers State Beach on Nov. 16.

Whether volunteers were lured to the beach that sunny morning to fulfill their community service or their own Karma hours, they can enjoy the holidays with an extra glow knowing they did their part to keep our local beaches safe, healthy and clean.

It’s not easy work! But it’s worthwhile, as the debris removed has now been categorized and catalogued, and used to help better inform our ongoing policy work to curb coastal pollution.

And the cleanups really make a difference, as Heal the Bay volunteers have collected and recorded more than 2 million pounds of debris over the past 20 years. That’s nearly the weight of two fully loaded 747 jumbo jets.

We started as an all-volunteer organization, and we still rely heavily on ocean-lovers who generously donate their time, as individuals or as part of their church, scout troop or even workplace.

While November’s Nothin’ But Sand represented our final cleanup of 2013, we’ll be back on the beach come January. Start 2014 off right and join us!

You might also consider becoming a member of Heal the Bay. It’s the easiest way to have the maximum impact on protecting our local beaches. The ocean belongs to all of us, so it’s up to all of us to care for it.

nothin but sand cleanup More than 1,000 cleanup volunteers canvassed Will Rogers State Beach — a Nothin But Sand record!

Heal the Bay CEO Ruskin Hartley recently sat down with Saul Gonzalez from KCRW to share his vision for our organization and the unfinished business of cleaning up Santa Monica Bay.

Ruskin details how Heal the Bay is well-positioned to play a significant role in developing innovative solutions to our 21st century challenges: Water pollution and water conservation. If you haven’t had the chance to meet Ruskin yet, the interview is a great way to get to know him a bit better.

Listen to the full interview.

Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s Director of Coastal Resources, heads to France to share the good news about our state’s blossoming Marine Protected Areas.

If you’ve been lucky enough to go for a dive, surf, or kayak at the Channel Islands, it’s hard not to be captivated by the cathedral kelp forests, large fish cruising the reef, and the occasional harbor seal’s shy game of peek-a-boo.

Sea Lion checking out diver in Santa Barbara Island's Marine Protected Area MPAThese Islands, along with special places throughout the entire California coast, enjoy state protections that allow the marine wildlife inside to thrive. Like underwater parks, the marine protected areas (MPAs for short) here act as safe havens for the garibaldi, black seabass, and giant kelp forests that call Southern California’s coastline home. And, the good news is that globally, MPAs are on the rise. There are more than 6,000 MPAs worldwide, yet less than 2% of our oceans is protected.

Next week, ocean scientists, policymakers, leaders, and conservation professionals will be convening in France to share ideas about how to foster MPA effectiveness around the world at the 2013 International Marine Protected Areas Congress.  And Heal the Bay’s story will be among those in the fold. As one of the prime  players in the establishment of MPAs in the Golden State, we will be part of  a California delegation heading to Marseilles to spread the good news.

We will be sharing stories about California’s MPAs and showcasing the Marine Life Protection Act as a model for other nations that want to build effective community engagement and science-based planning in their MPA development. We’ll also bring back MPA stories from around the world that may enhance MPA stewardship on our coast.

Next time you visit a California MPA to enjoy the majestic kelp forest, just think that at the same time someone else might be enjoying the corals along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, whale sharks in Mozambique, or diving iguanas in the Galapagos.

Please look for our daily blog posts, photos and videos from the conference:

Bon Voyage!

You win some, you lose some. And some fights just are too soon to call.

Heal the Bay was a big winner this week at the FOX TV Eco Casino night (pictured right). Not only were we one of the evening’s beneficiaries, but some of us got to attend this swell Hollywood party. We thank FOX for continuing to support our work with this lively event.

Also in the win column: We feel resplendent in our new Patagonia gear, which the apparel company donated to outfit our Aquarium and Stream Team staff and volunteers (pictured below). Big thanks to Patagonia for their colorful—yet practical—contributions to environmental health!

In the “too close to call” category, this week we learned that the State Assembly rejected a bill that would have granted stronger enforcement powers to the California Coastal Commission. We supported AB 976, which will now be delayed at least year.

However, we are grateful to our many supporters who not only contacted their legislators in favor of the bill, but also traveled to Sacramento to testify on its behalf. Thank you especially to the Black Surfers Collective. We hope you sustain your efforts to make beaches accessible to everyone.

Feeling feisty? Check out Heal the Bay’s Action Alert page to find out which issues on our front burner.

Aquarist Jackie Cannata and Operations Manager Jose Bacallao model their Patagonia wear at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

We’ve got some big news at Heal the Bay! After an extensive national search, we’re proud to announce that beginning Sept. 16, Ruskin Hartley will be Heal the Bay’s new CEO. Conservationists may recognize Ruskin’s name from his prolific work protecting California redwoods, but for those who don’t, here are the top ten things you need to know about the veteran environmentalist. 

1. Ruskin worked at the Save the Redwoods League in San Francisco for 15 years, six of those years as the Executive Director. In its nearly 100 year history, The League helped protect over 180,000 acres of redwood forest and create over 39 redwood state parks and preserves.

2. Ruskin was born and raised in rural southern England by an architect and urban planner and trained as a geographer at Cambridge University. 

3. He was asleep in Kuwait City when Iraq invaded Kuwait leading up to the Gulf War. Subsequently, he spent two years in Kuwait as an environmental planner working on the country’s third post-war reconstruction plan.

4. He’s seen every episode of Battlestar Galactica

5. Clean and healthy water has always been part of Ruskin’s mission. He spent a summer in Oman researching traditional irrigation systems and groundwater recharge. He also studied rural development at the University of East Anglia (that’s in the UK!). 

6. He’s a cricket fan and is learning to love baseball. 

7. He helped add the 25,000-acres Mill Creek property to the Redwood National and State Parks, the largest acquisition in Save the Redwood League’s history.

8. He learned to skateboard for the first time as an adult this year. He rode a longboard while his older son skated on a “trixie.” 

9. He’s tall. And don’t forget that British accent. 

10. Finally, he likes to tweet. A lot. Follow him at @ruskinhartley.

You can meet Ruskin while on the beach this Coastal Cleanup Day on September 21, 2013. For more information on Ruskin, read our full press release, visit his website or watch the video below where Ruskin describes his involvement with the Save the Redwoods League.