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The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival Paperback – 16 Oct 2012


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From natural paradise to environmental catastrophe and back again, the story of Monterey Bay is a compelling one. Lucky then...that marine biologists Stephen R. Palumbi and Carolyn Sotka do it justice.... A gentle, considered and stirring biography of an eco-system; the book is a fitting legacy for Monterey Bay. --The Ecologist

About the Author

Stephen R. Palumbi is the Director of the Hopkins Marine Station and the Harold A. Miller Professor of Marine Science at Stanford University. Carolyn Sotka manages science and policy outreach activities for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Oceans and Human Health Initiative.

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Amazon.com: 16 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A truly feel good story, with inspirational characters 28 Feb 2011
By Meade Fischer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival - Hardcover (Nov. 12, 2010) by Dr. Stephen R Palumbi PhD and Ms. Carolyn Sotka M.A.

As a resident of the Monterey Bay, I found this a book I couldn't put down. I think anyone who lives in California, is fascinated by ocean economics, loves the read the lives of interesting characters or is intrigued by our history will find this book compelling.

This history of the last 250 years of the Monterey Bay is an environmental story, and as such, it's also a human story. The authors, as they trace the damage done to this fecund part of the ocean and it's revival, also, of necessity, trace the lives of the people who have been instrumental in the changes, both positive and negative.

Starting with the Spanish exploration of California, when people first realized what an economic treasure resided under the bay, to today's world of ecotourism, the authors give us insights into the lives and activities of both those who would exploit the bay for profit and those who would attempt to save it.

As our natural resources, from otters to whales to abalone and to sardines were systematically harvested almost to extinction, the communities around Monterey Bay changed with the times, the economics and the major players. Just the sections about Julia Platt and Ed Ricketts would be enough to make this worth reading.

From a low point where the stench from the dying canneries have driven out Monterey's tourism industry, while dead fish parts make the bay almost lifeless to the revitalized bay with the Monterey Bay Aquarium as its centerpiece is a rousing story of success that will have you feeling optimistic about our ability to make this a better world.

A truly compelling feel good narrative, The Death and Life of Monterey Bay will not disappoint.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Glass half full in Monterey Bay 16 April 2011
By S - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Loving nature can be exhausting. Constantly crises arise, reminding us of our ecological footprint, the impacts of what we eat and how much we drive. It can make a person crazy with guilt. This book is a refreshing perspective on environmental crises past, and the resilience of the amazing ecosystem of Monterey Bay. The authors count the impacts of the decimation of the otter population in the early 1800s, which caused a domino effect where the boom of otter prey items such as abalone and sea urchin munched the kelp forest down to nubs. They follow the impacts of harvest of whales, abalones, sardines, and bird eggs. Palumbi, one of those polymath ecology geniuses, describes how abalone larval recruitment and whale population biology are keys to these changes.

The local history is folded in to the ecology of the bay, with the fabulous story of 1930s Pacific Grove mayor and PhD marine biologist Julia Platt who shot chickens invading her garden and protected the Hopkins Marine Life Refuge. He introduces the intellectual group of Ed Ricketts, John Steinbeck, and Joseph Campbell whose lives intertwined in Monterey- Ricketts, who collaborated with Steinbeck on The Log from the Sea of Cortez (Penguin Classics), was portrayed as Doc in Cannery Row. Palumbi draws a parallel between the dustbowl that is the foundation of the The Grapes of Wrath (Penguin Classics) and the sardine overfishing in Monterey Bay.

The book is at its best when the focus is on ecology and key historical figures. Occasionally the authors' efforts to include personal histories are clumsy and intrusive, including a couple dating in the midst of the sardine cannery accounts. But these are short interruptions. The big picture of a region that has survived threats from so many sides and emerged as an ambassador of ocean ecosystems is an encouraging story. The book finishes with the construction of the landmark Monterey Bay Aquarium on the footprint of the defunct canneries and its overwhelming success.

It is important to remember how much things have improved over time. It always seems like things are at their worst right now, but I'm going to try to imagine Monterey Bay over the last 200 years when I'm feeling discouraged. It has overcome the abuse, going from a wasteland stripped of otters and kelp to polluted with fish guts and cannery stench to an otter and whale-watching tourist destination. Thanks to Palumbi for showing us that the glass is half full in Monterey Bay.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Compelling Story of the Death and Rebirth of Monterey Bay 4 July 2013
By Jill Clardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I had the privilege of attending a day-long seminar at Hopkins Marine Station last year, sponsored by the Stanford Continuing Studies program (Stanford owns the Marine Station). Dr. Palumbi was the keynote speaker and gave a short intro into the cycle of death in rebirth in Monterey Bay, and I was motivated to read more about it. I have been visiting the area since the early 1970's, at which time the area was still suffering economically and ecologically from the collapse of the sardine fishing industry. 1964 was the last year of canning, and cannery row was still a waste land of crumbling, boarded up buildings behind chain link fence.

This short book recounts the relatively quick collapse of the Bay ecosystem when humans disrupted the normal cycle. Julie Platt, former mayor of Pacific Grove, had a marine biology degree and could see how badly the bay had declined and knew that human activity was the cause of the decay. She fought tirelessly and sometimes ruthlessly to preserve and repair the Bay.

Her legacy, and that of the other preservationists who took up the cause, is apparent today in the thriving wildlife, ecology and economy that characterizes the beautiful Monterey Bay area.

The book, while painting a grim picture of the devastation caused by human interference in the ecosystem of the Bay, also gives hope that, by thoughtful study, committed research, and appropriate legislation, the ecological balance of an area can be effectively restored. There is hope that the damage done by humans can be reversed !
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Bringing the bay back to life 20 July 2011
By M. Godon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Palumbi and Sotka do a pretty good job of telling the story of Monterey, from its early days as a Spanish mission, through the cannery days and the collapse of the local fishing economy, on through the revival of the area, including the creation of the aquarium itself. Extra points for including Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, the friend that Steinbeck used as the inspiration for the character of Doc in Cannery Row, and for being a non-fiction environmental story with a happy ending - for once.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A solid tale of decline and rebirth of one of Earth's natural wonders 8 Feb 2011
By ARH - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First of all, you need to know that I am a sucker for just about anything having to do with the sea in general, and of Monterey Bay in particular. With that said, this is not the first tale of changing tides and broadscale changes in Earth's history, e.g., The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Penguin Classics), The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, but this tale is different. This is a tale of the history of the decline and recovery of one of the world's premier places of natural beauty and biological diversity. And, Palumbi (The Director of Hopkins Marine Station) and Sotka manage it in less than 200 pages! By comparison, I read Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" and it took about a year of chipping away at that tome to get through it. This tale, however, was one I was able to polish off in less than a week.

Palumbi and Sotka have done a masterful job of telling the story of the Monterey Bay's unnatural history...that is, its interactions with humans. They start by telling of early French voyages to the Bay during the age of Spanish control of California, of the vast diversity of sealife there, including all manner of marine mammals, fishes, kelp, and etc. While the Spanish looked landward, the French and those who followed them recognized the bounty of the sea in the Bay. Soon thereafter follows the sad tale of the commercial overexploitation of one marine species after another until the Bay's original ecosystem was hammered. First it was sea otters hunted for their pelts (if you are interested in reading more about this you may want to try Morning of Fire: John Kendrick's Daring American Odyssey in the Pacific). Then came whalers who found abundant gray and humpback whales in the Bay. Then it was fish, especially sardines, and the boom of sardine canneries in Monterey in the early 1900s. If these kinds of accounts of over-exploitation are of interest to you, I recommend The Unnatural History of the Sea. Anyway, the offal and waste from Monterey's cannery row eventually polluted the Bay, and ecologically Monterey Bay had hit close to rock bottom, literally, since even the giant kelp could no longer exist there. Then things started to change...the otters weren't extinct after all...and to hear about the rest you will have to read the book.

I have spent a good deal of time in Monterey and Pacific Grove, and I know a bit about its history, especially the part connected to marine biology (Ed Ricketts and John Steinbeck, Hopkins Marine Station, and the Monterey Bat Aquarium), but this book tells the tales of earlier times, and amazing people, like Julia Platt. She sounds amazing.

Be advised that this book does not provide a comprehensive history of the towns of Monterey and Pacific Grove, CA, or of the natural history of the Bay. But, enough of both are included to provide the essntial framework needed to understand what happened to the Bay in the past, and what is happening there now. This story is, nevertheless, dear to me since I did my PhD field work at the Hopkins Marine Station when I was a student at UC Santa Cruz in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I, of course, also spent time at other locations around the Bay, including a LOT of time in Santa Cruz.

What is the future of the Bay? Well, as of right now it actually looks brighter that its recent past. You will have to read the book to find out why.

This is a solid telling, thanks Steve! I enjoyed it.

4 solid stars.
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