Sea Stars Gala 2022


17 Sep, 2022


Cocoanut Grove Ballroom - Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
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Blue Carpet Arrivals


The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s Sea Stars Gala was a smashing success! On September 17, 2022, 360 guests filled the historic Cocoanut Grove Ballroom in Santa Cruz to celebrate.  This event recognized the year’s five Sea Stars, raised funds for the Foundation, and provided an opportunity for an incredible panoply of figures to come together to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Guests embraced the suggested attire: men in tuxedos with blue bow ties and women in blue/green ballgowns. One guest incorporated swim flippers into his ocean ensemble. At the entrance to the venue, the Foundation had a blue carpet, with a “step and repeat” logo backdrop, attended by a photographer and “paparazzi” catching candid photos.

The evening was full of high-profile local celebrities, public officials, and conservationists. Guests like the following were in attendance: Clint Eastwood, Foundation board members Secretary Leon Panetta, Hon. Sam Farr, Hon. Fred Keeley, Christina Sandera, Hilary Bryant, Dan Haifley, Yvette Lopez Brook, Martine Watkins, Gordon Eubanks, Nova Covington; Public officials: Congressman Jimmy Panetta, Senator Laird, Derek Timm, Supervisor Chris Lopez, Cynthia Mathews, Supervisor Bruce McPherson, Donna Meyers, Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, Faris Sabbah, Donna Lind, Kristen Brown, Renee Golder; Chumash Elders Bonnie Williamson and Slo Gutierrez; President of CSUMB Dr. Vanya Quinones; Artists/Authors: Frans Lanting, Christina Eckstrom, Ethan Estess, Dr. Wallace J Nichols; NOAA leadership: Director of ONMS John Armor, Bill Douros, Paul Michel and Lisa Wooninck; Nonprofit organizations: Save Our Shores, O’Neill Sea Odyssey, Save the Waves Foundation, Museum of Natural History, Clean Oceans International; Former Sea Stars: Vicki Pearse, Marc Silberstein, and more! Too many to count! The evening was indeed a sea of stars!

This year’s five designated Sanctuary Sea Stars were individuals/organizations who have made regular contributions to the sanctuary over the past 30 years. (See below for details.)  These awards were akin to “lifetime achievement” awards, as they were given on the 30th anniversary of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Following the recognition of the Stars, Foundation co-chairperson Leon Panetta’s remarks brought guests to their feet in a rousing standing ovation.

Sculptor Nick Harkin created one-of-a-kind, handmade pieces of art for the Sea Star awards. He hand-crafted metal kelp stalks with a sea star attached atop a block of “Richlite,” 14,000 sheets of recycled paper compressed with resin. Art teacher Julie Nolte led the entire Westlake Elementary School in creating a glow-in-the-dark jellyfish art installment, which stole the show. Artist Ethan Estess contributed works of art (a whale tail made from rope and a “disco tuna” sculpture) to decorate the venue and for the silent auction.

Internationally-known National Geographic photographers Frans Lanting & Christine Eckstrom presented images from their new project, the “Bay of Life,” which documents the Monterey Bay area as one of the hottest hotspots of biodiversity in the world.

Award-winning documentary film team, Turning Tides Films, led by Dana Frankoff, James Moore, and Eric Ebner, premiered our “History of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary” short-film teaser and brought the crowd to tears. Mr. Clint Eastwood narrated the film as it recalled the steps the Central Coast community and local politicians took to obtain federal sanctuary protections for the Monterey Bay Area. It also looked to the future for what steps need to be taken for other sanctuary proposals, like the proposed neighboring Chumash National Marine Sanctuary.

After a rousing auction which included an unbelievable auction package from the Golden State Warriors, and a package in Washington DC to participate in Capitol Hill Ocean Week, the Foundation raffled off an electric bicycle. Then the David Landon Band set the dance floor afire. Guests were having such fun that apparently, a group of women in their stunning ballgowns kept the dancing going at the Crow’s Nest Bar into the wee hours.

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! It was a night to remember!

2022 Sea Stars

Panetta Sea Star: Dr. Kenneth Coale

Dr. Kenneth Coale, late former Director of Moss Landing Marine Labs (MLML), which is home to San Jose State University’s School of Marine Science. Dr. Coale received his B.A. and Ph.D. from UC Santa Cruz before he joined MLML in 1988 as a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. John Martin. There, Dr. Coale orchestrated one of the great discoveries of ocean science as they explored the importance of iron as a “fertilizer” for the world’s oceans. Dr. Coale was a key player in these ocean sampling/experimental cruises, demonstrating that iron is a critical and limiting element in many parts of the oceans. Dr. Coale became an adjunct faculty member of MLML in 1992 and taught a course in chemical oceanography before becoming the Acting Director of the Labs in 1998. He became the permanent Director in 2001 until his retirement in 2011 and a Professor of Chemical Oceanography in 2018. Dr. Coale was a bio-geochemist, studying trace elements, radionuclides, and trace metal dynamics. He mentored numerous students at MLML and elsewhere and was a steadfast and vigorous champion of MLML locally and around the world. He will be especially remembered for his clever, compassionate, and witty comments; his passion for building and designing things (an example was his popular fabrication class); and his dedication to the MLML family. He called MLML the “little marine lab that could”, and his wise leadership and forward thinking was exemplary and deeply appreciated.

Business and Tourism: Michael Bekker

Michael Bekker, Vice President at Cannery Row Company has spent 21 years, dedicating his career to ensuring Cannery Row remains a clean, safe, sustainable, and environmentally responsible destination—Mr. Bekker developed the highly acclaimed resource recovery program available to Cannery Row Company tenants. Each year, the service collects more than 1,142 tons of waste, and recycling efforts keep more than 1.300 bins of glass, aluminum cans, and plastic, along with 130 tons of cardboard, out of our local landfill.

Mr. Bekker has held many key leadership roles, including the Sanctuary Tourism & Recreation Working Group (STAR), and served as a primary member of the Sanctuary Advisory Council for more than 20 years.  He has led fundraising efforts for sanctuary events and initiatives, and he has worked with colleagues in the business community to support and adopt measures to protect and enhance the environment.

Education and Outreach: O’Neill Sea Odyssey (OSO)

O’Neill Sea Odyssey (OSO), founded in 1996 by Jack, Tim and Bridget O’Neill, provides an ocean-going science education program for 4th-6th grade school classes. The program is free and also provides bus transportation for classes who need it. The program consists of in-class curriculum, an ocean-going field trip centered on plankton collection and examination, and watershed protection. More than 50% of the students OSO serves speak English as-a-second language and are low-income. Most have never been on the ocean before although they come from Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties.  A study conducted in a master’s thesis from a first “Sea Odyssey generation” revealed that 75% of 86 former OSO participants retained a high level of awareness of the connection between non-point source pollution and personal behaviors two to five years after the program, regardless of differences in sex, language, grade level, and community setting.  To date, OSO has served nearly 125,000 students!

Research: Dr. Kerstin Wasson

Dr. Kerstin Wasson has been the Research Coordinator for 22 years at the Elkhorn Slough Foundation.  The main channel of Elkhorn Slough is part of Monterey Bay National Marine sanctuary and is a critical habitat for feeding migrating birds, serving as a nursery for fishes, filtering water before it enters the sanctuary, providing habitat for sea otters, sequestering carbon, and protecting the regional coast from flooding.  Dr. Wasson has been invaluable in assessing the condition of the Slough and addressing human impacts in this highly modified system. She has developed nationally-recognized monitoring programs and served decades of service on the Sanctuary Research Activity Panel.  She is also an academic expert in native oyster restoration, invasive species, and large-scale marsh restoration, where she is participating in innovative information sharing with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band.  Dr. Wasson and her extensive network of colleagues have long been the essential estuarine partners for MBNMS. Dr. Wasson received her doctorate from UC Santa Cruz in 1996 and taught at University of Washington and Humboldt State University before coming to work at the Reserve in 2000, but she has been getting stuck in the Slough’s mudflats, in search of invertebrates, since 1990.

Resource ProtectionSave Our Shores

Save Our Shores was formed in 1978 to oppose plans to drill for oil in federal waters off the coast of central and northern California. Over 44 years, Save Our Shores has helped to pass laws in 26 communities to block or require voter approval for onshore facilities for offshore oil, secured passage of 52 local laws aimed at single use plastic, negotiated a water quality agreement with the sale of the Moss Landing Power Plant, initiated a needed dialogue with the fishing community after the establishment of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and successfully fought sand mining in Marina. Save Our Shores helped to lead the effort to expand the boundaries of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to prevent offshore drilling north of Santa Cruz and south of San Francisco, a high value target for the oil industry. Today, its staff and volunteers continue to implement the Annual Coastal Cleanup for our area, offer year-round cleanups, and clean-boating programs to keep pollution out of the sanctuary operate throughout Monterey Bay.  It also offers youth education programs in the classroom and out in the-field to inspire the upcoming generations to become environmental stewards. In the past five years alone, the staff have engaged over 12,000 youth in education programs and are now working to reduce barriers to coastal access. Lastly, Save Our Shores participates in state-wide environmental coalitions to push policy and advocacy efforts into place, fighting to maintain hard-won ocean protections.

Host Committee

Secretary Leon Panetta

Hilary Bryant

Fred Keeley

Dan Haifley

Ted Balestreri

Nova Covington

Christina Sandera

Sam Farr

Yvette Lopez Brooks

Martine Watkins

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Please contact Ginaia Kelly, 831-359-7071,