Sea Stars Celebration


5 Aug, 2023


Tehama Golf Club, Carmel

Video Montage of Sea Stars Celebration here 

Entire PHOTO Gallery, click here.

Watch VIDEO of event program here 

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The stars were out for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s Sea Stars Celebration on August 5, 2023.  This sold-out event was hosted by Clint Eastwood and Foundation Board Member Christina Sandera at the Tehama Golf Club’s exquisite ballroom.  The event recognized the year’s five “Sea Stars,” raised funds for the Foundation, and provided an opportunity to celebrate the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Guests were greeted with celebratory Equinox champagne, had their photos captured in front of the “step and repeat,” and were ushered to the patio overlooking the Carmel coastline. Artists Ethan Estess and Ea Eckerman created one-of-a-kind works of art (Ea painted atop a surfboard canvas, and Ethan created prints of reclaimed marine debris onto linen, making an artistic and ecological statement, while seasoned jazz guitarist Bruce Forman performed.  Mr. Forman’s music has appeared in several film scores, including Academy Award winning “Million Dollar Baby.” Guests got into the spirit of the celebration by dressing in elegant ocean blues and greens.

The evening was full of high-profile celebrities, public officials, and ocean conservationists –Guests like: Clint Eastwood, Foundation board members Secretary Leon Panetta, Christina Sandera, Hon. Sam Farr, Hon. Fred Keeley, Christina Sandera, Hilary Bryant, Dan Haifley, Yvette Lopez Brooks, Martine Watkins, Nova Covington, and NOAA Sanctuary Superintendent Lisa Wooninck; President/CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Joel Johnson; Public officials: Assemblymembers Gail Pellerin and Dawn Addis,  County Supervisors Zach Friend and Manu Koenig, as well as City Council members Donna Meyers, Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, and Donna Lind; Foundation Ambassadors: “Presidential Champion of Change” Haben Girma, “Blue Mind” Founder Dr. Wallace J Nichols, and “Presidential Medal of Valor” Recipient Eric Jones; Chumash Chairperson Violet Sage Walker; President of CSUMB Dr. Vanya Quinones;  Former Sea Stars PJ Webb, Mark Silberstein, Mike Bekker, and the O’Neill Sea Odyssey, and many more!

Inside the ballroom, guests were treated to a delicious dinner and wines from Scheid Family Winery, who powers its winemaking by 100% renewable wind energy.

Ms. Sandera welcomed guests and introduced the evening’s beloved emcee and current Santa Cruz City Mayor Fred Keeley.  Fred and Co-Chairperson Hilary Bryant helped recognize this year’s five Sea Stars, individuals/organizations who have regularly contributed to the health and conservation of the sanctuary. (See below for write ups.) Ventana Surfboards & Supplies created one-of-a-kind, handmade awards out of reclaimed wood from the Western Flyer ocean vessel upon which John Steinbeck and Doc Ricketts sailed and wrote the “Log of the Sea of Cortez.”

Chapter Director Ginaia Kelly thanked the sponsors and partners who made the event possible.  And guests got to enjoy the Foundation documentary short film about the sanctuary designation in 1992, narrated by Clint Eastwood. To wrap up, one could hear a pin drop as Foundation Co-Chairperson Leon Panetta spoke on the state of the country and oceans, and then asked guests to raise a glass to toast Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Auctioneer Rod Caborn brought down the house with a rousing auction which included unbelievable auction packages like helicopter tours of the sanctuary, stays at Post Ranch Inn, Joby Aviation flights, an initialed limited-edition Ansel Adams print, a custom sailing cruise of the San Francisco Bay Area, a meeting with Golden State Warrior Klay Thompson, and a package in Washington DC to participate in Capitol Hill Ocean Week and more.

The evening raised nearly $150,000 to support the critical wildlife protection and educational programs for Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Thank you to our sponsors, partners, board of directors, staff, and volunteers for helping make this night possible!

When: Saturday, August 5, 2023 | 5:00 – 10:00 pm

Where: Tehama Golf Club | Carmel

What: Celebrate the Sanctuary Sea Stars with dinner, drinks, a live auction, and an unforgettable program.

2023 Sea Stars

Chris is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). For the past 14 years, Chris has leveraged MBARI’s scientific and engineering expertise to address resource management issues and advance education initiatives. His leadership has yielded significant research benefits for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. He has championed the development of a cabled, directional hydrophone system, which is complemented by an exhibit at the Sanctuary Exploration Center. Furthermore, Chris has been a driving force in using environmental DNA to assess the sanctuary’s biodiversity and tracking the development of oceanic conditions linked to harmful algal blooms and sea lion die-offs.  In addition, Chris has spearheaded impact assessments related to lost shipping containers, as well as the identification and documentation of maritime heritage resources such as the dirigible Macon and Vietnam-era fighter jets. He has also focused on understanding and raising awareness about climate change, utilizing artificial intelligence for video and sound data analysis, assessing the impacts of deep-sea cables, and driving initiatives for coral ecosystem restoration.

Chris’s visionary leadership has harnessed MBARI’s expertise to address crucial research needs, promote education, and contribute to the preservation of the sanctuary’s diverse marine ecosystem.


Established in 2010, the Wahine Project aims to empower young girls worldwide by breaking down barriers that hinder their access to ocean sports within our sanctuary. In 2015, the project expanded to include all youth, providing opportunities for proficiency in water athletics despite geographic limitations, financial constraints, or lack of opportunities. This transformative relationship with the sanctuary amplifies their voices in climate change, environmental justice, and fosters a unique sense of social responsibility nurtured by the ocean. As the visionary Founding Director, Dionne Ybarra, a Mexican American woman from East Salinas, personally experienced the transformative power of surfing, which led her to recognize that increased time spent in the ocean serves as a catalyst for self-empowerment and a means to unite diverse communities with the environment. Through the Wahine Project, Dionne is dedicated to eliminating barriers to the sanctuary and providing inclusive opportunities for growth, ensuring that transformative relationships with the ocean are accessible to all.


David Feliz is the dedicated manager of Elkhorn Slough Reserve within the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. With a remarkable tenure since 1988, David has been involved in the restoration and management of wetlands across various landscapes. Hailing from Southern California, he is renowned for his approachability, amiable nature, and his enthusiasm in engaging with visitors to the slough. David readily shares fascinating facts and stories about the diverse life that thrives within its waters. Throughout his career, he has fostered numerous active partnerships to enhance the conservation and management of both upland and wetland habitats. Additionally, David has contributed his expertise as a member of the Sanctuary Advisory Council, furthering the collective efforts in preserving this invaluable ecological treasure.




Pieter Folkens has been a dedicated leader and trainer in the Large Whale Entanglement Response Network for over three decades. As co-founder of the Alaska Whale Foundation and California Whale Rescue, he has demonstrated a deep commitment to whale welfare. Pieter’s expertise extends to advising the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group on entanglements, while also serving as a trained “cutter” on the entanglement response team. He provides valuable L2/L3 trainings to NOAA and MBNMS staff, sharing his extensive knowledge of technologies and techniques for successful whale disentanglements. Pieter’s contributions in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, including the number of whales he has responded to and disentangled, are highly regarded. As he approaches retirement, he continues to mentor the newest resource protection specialist and remains an influential figure in the field. Pieter’s remarkable career also encompasses roles as an Assistant Professor of Science Communication at UC Santa Cruz and as a charter member of the Society for Marine Mammalogy. Lastly, his writings, illustrations, and photography have been published globally in multiple languages.


Henry Ruhl is the Director of the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CeNCOOS) since 2018. With CeNCOOS, Henry has revolutionized the availability of ocean observing data, functioning as the oceanic counterpart to the national weather system. His leadership has focused on making this valuable information accessible to policymakers and the public. By providing vital data streams, Henry has contributed to the creation of Sanctuary Condition Reports, assessments of California’s marine reserves, climate change analysis, and the monitoring of notable animal movements, such as the influx of white sharks into Monterey Bay. Furthermore, Henry has championed strategic planning efforts by incorporating diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) initiatives, appointing a tribal representative to the Governing Council, and directing resources towards addressing tribal needs.

Host Committee

Clint Eastwood & Christina Sandera

Secretary Leon Panetta

Hilary Bryant

Fred Keeley

Dan Haifley

Ted Balestreri

Nova Covington

Gordon Eubanks Jr.

Sam Farr

Yvette Brooks

Martine Watkins

Thank you to our Sponsors!

Thank you to our In-Kind Contributors!