2020 Monterey Bay

Sanctuary Sea Stars Brunch


6 Dec, 2020


Watch The Recording


In celebration of the 28th anniversary of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, our Foundation presented awards to people and organizations who have contributed significantly to the sanctuary through education, conservation, research, and business. Foundation Board of Directors co-chairs Hilary Bryant and Secretary Leon Panetta presented the “Sea Star” awards, including bestowing our highest honor, the Panetta Sea Star Award, to Mark Silberstein of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation hosted the virtual 2020 Sanctuary Sea Stars Brunch on Sunday, December 6th from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM. This engaging and educational event featured awards presentations, a keynote speaker, the premier of a new Foundation Film, and an online auction.

The 2020 Sanctuary Sea Stars Brunch was a benefit for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. All funds raised at the brunch support the conservation and programs of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Keynote Speaker


The first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, Haben Girma is a human rights lawyer advancing disability justice. President Obama named her a White House Champion of Change. She received the Helen Keller Achievement Award, a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and TIME100 Talks. President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Chancellor Angela Merkel have all honored Haben. Haben believes disability is an opportunity for innovation, and she teaches organizations the importance of choosing inclusion. The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, and TODAY Show featured her memoir, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.

Haben was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she currently lives. At the event she discussed her life, career, and experiences surfing in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Learn more about Haben at her website.

Online Auction

As part of our Sea Stars Brunch, we held an online auction featuring several incredible auction items. Highlights included:

  • A “glamping” package on the stunning Big Sur coast at one of the most spectacular properties in the world. The property, Point 16, has excellent amenities and can host 20-30 people.*
  • An afternoon golfing and lunching with two Sanctuary Foundation Board Members: Secretary Leon Panetta, and Ted Balestreri, CEO of the Cannery Row Company
  • Hotel Package to Sanctuary Beach Resort
  • Signed Klay Thompson Jersey
  • and much more!

*Scheduling was contingent on COVID-restrictions. However, this item was the perfect opportunity to gather outdoors, with ample space for social-distancing.

Sea Stars

Panetta Sea Star: Mark Silberstein

Mark Silberstein is the Executive Director of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation (ESF). He was responsible for the early development of research, education and volunteer programs  on the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve(ESNERR).  Many people do not realize that the main channel of Elkhorn Slough, a recognized wetland of international importance, is part of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS).  This is the only place in the nation where a Marine Sanctuary and a National Estuarine Research Reserve are adjoined.  Hence, an effective partnership between MBNMS, ESNERR and ESF is critical, and fortunately thriving, in large part because of Mark Silberstein’s conservation and collaboration ethic.

Mark conducted research in Elkhorn Slough in the early 1970’s while a student at Moss Landing Marine Labs.  He was hired to initiate programs on the newly established Reserve in the early 1980s.  The close collaboration between NOAA, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the non-profit Elkhorn Slough Foundation led to the outstanding programs that have developed in the slough.. The staff at the Reserve and the Foundation has grown from two -Mark and the Reserve Manager in 1983 -to over 30 people today that energize diverse programs and interests.

In 1997 the ESF Board expanded the mission of the organization to become a land trust.  Today, the Elkhorn Slough Foundation has protected over 4000 acres of key conservation lands adjoining the 1700-acre National Estuarine Research Reserve holdings. The Foundation has restored thousands of acres of critical habitat, manages six organic farms leased to local growers, owns a sustainably grazed cattle ranch and is restoring the historic Porter Ranch as a community center in the upper Slough. This land trust work has measurably improved water quality in the slough and expanded populations of a number of threatened and endangered species. ESF has worked with the Reserve on public access and built the only wheelchair accessible trail along the slough shore.

Like the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation staff, Mark has been an advocate for the conservation of our coastal resources.  He has traveled to estuaries throughout the nation to learn from the other Reserves and to promote understanding of marine protected areas.  As a biologist, Mark has explored from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to Antarctica, but his heart is in Elkhorn Slough and Monterey Bay .  He is well known around the Bay and regarded for pursuing collaborative approaches to conservation, and a fondness for mud!  We thank Mark for his many years of show-casing, protecting, and supporting MBNMS.”

Research: Dr. Jim Barry, Research Chair and Senior Scientist at MBARI

Dr. Jim Barry is the Research Chair and a Senior Scientist at MBARI. His research group uses lab facilities and deep-sea field research to study the biology and ecology of marine benthic communities, and he is an internationally recognized expert on the ecological impacts of ocean acidification and global climate change. Jim makes a point of sharing his research with the public and decision-makers, as exemplified by his recent presentation at Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2020.

Dr. Barry’s contributions to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary are so extensive that he is considered a valuable team member on the MBNMS staff. Jim has worked in close collaboration with MBNMS staff on: characterizing and protecting Davidson Seamount; finding and assessing the impacts of the only studied lost shipping container in the deep ocean; discovering the coral oasis at Sur Ridge; designating Sur Ridge a Sanctuary Ecologically Significant Area; developing methods for deep-sea coral restoration; and unlocking mysteries of the recently discovered deep-sea octopus brooding area at Davidson Seamount. He continues to develop innovative research techniques with valuable management applications like using environmental DNA to assess what lives in specific areas of the ocean, and on-station deep-sea camera systems to visually document previously unknown sea creature behavior around ancient, deep-sea corals.

We are indeed fortunate to have such an accomplished marine scientist, willing to educate others and do societally relevant research, as a close collaborator of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, to help protect the ocean for future generations!

Resource Protection: Cowell Beach Working Group

Cowell Beach is located next to the Santa Cruz wharf and is world renowned for its surf breaks, beauty, tourist destination and connection to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  For 10 years, Cowell Beach was in the top 10 of Heal the Bay’s Beach Bummer list due to poor water quality.  This got the attention of many and the Cowell’s Working Group was formed in September 2014.  It is made up of representatives from City of Santa Cruz, County of Santa Cruz, Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club and Save the Waves Coalition. The Working Group is funded by the City of Santa Cruz and facilitated by Save the Waves Coalition. In 2012, a Stanford University study identified the source of the bacterial contamination at Cowell Beach to be from birds and humans. The City initiated sewer and storm drain infrastructure repairs in the area. The Working Group later recommended screening under the wharf to keep the pigeons from roosting, which was completed in 2016.  Within months of screening the birds out, the County and Surfrider water quality results were showing improvements.  The Working Group continues to meet and are committed to ongoing maintenance to ensure the water quality is safe for swimmers and marine life.  This is a true example of public private partnerships using good science to solve challenging environmental and human health issues.

The award goes to the working group member organizations with special thanks to certain working group members (in parenthesis):

  • Save The Waves Coalition: (Nik Strong-Cvetich and Trent Hodges)
  • City of Santa Cruz: City Council (Donna Meyeres and David Terrazas); City Manager’s Office and Public Works (Steve Wolfman and Mark Dettle), Environmental Health (Akin Babatola), and Santa Cruz Wharf (Jon Bombaci)
  • County of Santa Cruz Environmental Health: (John Ricker and Audrey Levine)
  • Surfrider Foundation Santa Cruz Chapter (Alli Webster)
  • Sierra Club Santa Cruz Chapter (Gillian Greensite)

Education and Outreach: Mary Alice Fettis, Fisherman’s Wharf Association and Chair, WhaleFest Monterey

Mary Alice has helped bring world recognition to Fisherman’s Wharf and Monterey Bay National Sanctuary, through the annual “Whalefest Monterey,” which celebrates the sanctuary and empowers and inspires the public to preserve our oceans.  Mary Alice has been the lead organizer, fund-raiser, and facilitator of this free, fun and educational/interactive family event for ten years! Whale Fest features a two-day Symposium with world-renowned marine experts and dozens of exhibit booth. It also benefits many local and national marine organizations that educate, inspire, and empower the public to protect the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. People come from around the world to view the many whales, orcas, dolphins, seals and sea lions, and pelicans in Monterey Bay. Mary Alice has been passionate about ensuring that these visitors know and appreciate they are in a national marine sanctuary. Special thanks also to Wendy Brickman, Executive Director, Fisherman’s Wharf Association for her support for WhaleFest.

Business and Tourism: Dream Inn

Santa Cruz’s only beachfront hotel, the four star Dream Inn is next door to the Beach Boardwalk, Wharf, and the Sanctuary Exploration Center. The Dream Inn has been a great neighbor and supporter of the Exploration Center and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The hotel routinely encourages their guests to visit the Center and integrates MBNMS messages into the visitor experience. The Dream Inn has a real stewardship ethic and actively promote ocean protection. They sponsor and participate in regular cleanups at Cowell Beach, and they supported the efforts to get Cowell Beach off the Heal The Bay dirty beaches list. The Dream Inn has also provided financial and in-kind support for Save Our Shores, O’Neill Sea Odyssey, Monterey Bay National marine Sanctuary Foundation, and they also often book group rentals at the Center. We applaud the hotel for these efforts and for their support for the creation of Jack O’Neill Way and the Santa Cruz City mural depicting the contributions of the O’Neill family surf business at the site of their original Santa Cruz surf shop. Receiving the award on behalf the Dream Inn is Darren Pound, General Manager.

Photo Gallery

Host Committee

Secretary Leon Panetta

Ted Balestreri

Margaret PJ Webb

Hilary Bryant

Nova Covington

Dan Haifley

Sam Farr

Fred Keeley

Paul Michel

Thank You to Our Sponsors


Please contact Ginaia Kelly, 831-359-7071, ginaia@marinesanctuary.org