The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival was featured on the PBS program Big Blue Live.
Anyone who has ever stood on the shores of Monterey Bay, watching the rolling ocean waves and frolicking otters, knows it is a unique place. But even residents on this idyllic California coast may not realize its full history. Monterey began as a natural paradise, but became the poster child for industrial devastation in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, and is now one of the most celebrated shorelines in the world.
It is a remarkable story of life, death, and revival—told here for the first time in all its stunning color and bleak grays. The Death and Life of Monterey Bay begins in the eighteenth century when Spanish and French explorers encountered a rocky shoreline brimming with life—raucous sea birds, abundant sea otters, barking sea lions, halibut the size of wagon wheels, waters thick with whales. A century and a half later, many of the sea creatures had disappeared, replaced by sardine canneries that sickened residents with their stench but kept the money flowing. When the fish ran out and the climate turned, the factories emptied and the community crumbled. But today, both Monterey’s economy and wildlife are resplendent. How did it happen?
The answer is deceptively simple: through the extraordinary acts of ordinary people. The Death and Life of Monterey Bay is the biography of a place, but also of the residents who reclaimed it. Monterey is thriving because of an eccentric mayor who wasn’t afraid to use pistols, axes, or the force of law to protect her coasts. It is because of fishermen who love their livelihood, scientists who are fascinated by the sea’s mysteries, and philanthropists and community leaders willing to invest in a world-class aquarium. The shores of Monterey Bay revived because of human passion—passion that enlivens every page of this hopeful book.
“[A] colorful history of times long gone, of environments degraded, of an intricate web of life threatened—and how it has finally begun to recover through the hopeful work of communities and their leaders…[A] fascinating book, filled with anecdote and history, they explore the complex environment of the region, its fabulous sea life, and its colorful cast of humans.”
The San Francisco Chronicle
“In this buoyant history of Monterey Bay, it’s the humans, not the ocean life, that take center stage… the happy ending, so rare in nature literature nowadays, is refreshing.”
“Palumbi and Sotka bring to life a rich cast of characters from five centuries to tell the story of Monterey Bay’s discovery, destruction, and redemption. A marvellous tale, beautifully told.”
Callum Roberts, Professor, University of York and author of The Unnatural History of the Sea
“In a world of too many problems and too few solutions, Monterey Bay, California bucks the trend. It’s better now than a century ago, and the vision of what can happen when stubborn people set their minds to something makes this a story not just of a great place, but of inspiration that can work in many places.”
Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel and Song for the Blue Ocean
“Just as the Monterey Bay Aquarium now exhibits the wonders of marine life in the unique environment of Monterey Bay, Palumbi and Sotka turn back the pages of time to illuminate the fall and rise of the sea otter population; the lives of the local squid and abalones; the men and women who lived and worked there; the whales that came (and still come) to visit; the collapse of the sardine canneries; and how the dilapidated Hovden cannery was transformed into the best aquarium in America.”
Richard Ellis, author of The Empty Ocean and Tuna: A Love Story
“[Explains] the incredible comeback of one of the most important locales for marine biodiversity [and details the] entertaining lessons on species interdependence and the quirky characters who helped the recovery happen.”
Santa Cruz Sentinel
“Palumbi and Sotka have taken the legacy Monterey Bay and created a model for successful ocean conservation: understand the ecology of the area, commit to marine protected areas, educate the public, be patient and persevere. Individual contributions might only be apparent in hindsight, but that does not make the many less significant. The story of Monterey Bay is not only a story of exploitation and collapse, but also one of resilience and hope.”
Trends in Ecology and Evolution
“The death and life of Monterey Bay: a story of revival should be the top candidate as a narrative for the next seminar you teach on socio-ecological systems.”
Book Reviews for The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival – Stephen R. Palumbi, Carolyn Sotka
San Francisco Chronicle book review by David Perlmann. March 9, 2011. “[A] colorful history of times long gone, of environments degraded, of an intricate web of life threatened—and how it has finally begun to recover through the hopeful work of communities and their leaders…[A] fascinating book, filled with anecdote and history, they explore the complex environment of the region, its fabulous sea life, and its colorful cast of humans.”
Monterey Bay’s Ecological Renaissance. “Monterey Bay has gone from toxic soup to pristine waters supporting sea otters, whales, and a thriving kelp forest. What we’re learning here might just save our oceans.”
“From natural paradise to environmental catastrophe and back again, the story of Monterey Bay is a compelling one. Lucky then, says Mark Newton, that marine biologists Stephen R. Palumbi and Carolyn Sotka do it justice.”
“Perhaps the most important message the book provides is that of what can happen when local people decide that enough is enough. Our local eco-systems are our responsibility and we have a duty to learn from the past and make amends for our mistakes. The Death and Life of Monterey Bay neatly encapsulates the depredations of the 20th century but highlights the fact that all is not lost. A gentle, considered and stirring biography of an eco-system; the book is a fitting legacy for Monterey Bay.
Check out the 2015 PBS Live Special Big Blue Live feature on our book The Death and Life of Monterey Bay.
To learn more about MPAs networks in California check out the California Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s on-line resources.
Read more here.