Remembering the Life of Mark Abramson

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