Whereas John Steinbeck saw an industrial town, so choked with cannery fumes that no one would build an oceanfront house, Monterey is now one of the most beautiful and coveted shorelines of the United States. How did the Monterey Coast arise from its polluted and over fished past? The answer lies in the pioneering work of historic figures such as David Starr Jordan, Stanford’s first President who built a Marine Station in Monterey, Julia Platt, a renegade mayor who established the first marine refuge in Monterey, and Julie Packard who established the Queen of marine Aquariums. But it also depended on happenstance: a World War, a collapsed fishery, an abrupt climate shift in the North Pacific, and the lucky return of the ecologically pivotal sea otter. With stops and starts the marine environment of Monterey Bay has been improving – it is probably healthier and more natural than any time in the previous two centuries. Though not pristine, it’s an example of successful rebirth of an environment. And, it is an example of what this rebirth means to the human communities around the shore.
Speaker Stephen Palumbi is a Professor of Biological Science whose research interest include evolution and marine biology.