As today is Earth Day, we decided to focus on a local who is in the trenches, working with his team of science and policy experts to restore Santa Monica Bay. Executive Director Tom Ford (the other one!) and his organization The Bay Foundation are passionate about improving the Bay’s water quality, and conserving, rehabilitating and protecting its natural resources to make a healthy ecosystem for all. This area is also home to over 5,000 species of animals, fish, birds and plants.
Tom, from the East Coast, has been the director of The Bay Foundation (a 501(c)3 nonprofit) for just under a year, but was its Director of Marine Programs prior, and before that, director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper. He’s a longtime major diver (he’s even worn out a buoyancy control device which is meant to last a lifetime). Kelp is a huge passion, and he worked for 15 years to launch the major 5-year, 150-acre kelp restoration program that The Bay Foundation is now leading (with key partners) off the coast of Palos Verdes. At least once a week, he escapes his desk to dive on the project. Kelp forests are the “rainforest of the sea”, meaning they support 100s of species of fish, invertebrates and other algae, just like a land forest supports 100s of species of animals, birds, etc. So far so good! Over 23 acres are restored, with more and healthier and wider variety of marine life, and 100s of giant kelp plants returned, often reaching 25 ft. in length. And if you love ‘uni’, the local sea urchin harvesting is improved by this greatly, as well.
Other key Bay Foundation work that Tom—a father of two who happens to be married to a fellow environmentalist—touts proudly is wetland restoration, a ‘clean boating’ program, the Clean Bay Restaurant Program, the upcoming 5-year State of the Bay report, a partnership with Loyola Marymount University, and working with many partners on a wide range of projects to create innovative solutions to issues that affect the Bay’s water.
Here is a peek at this eco-warrior’s desk.
TOM FORD’S DESKTOP ESSENTIALS
The Daruma doll is a Japanese tradition. It was modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Buddhism. He was a Buddhist monk and legend has it that in one story he faced a wall, meditating for nine years without moving in order to reach realization, and his legs and arms fell off from atrophying. Another says he cut off his eyelids so he’d never fall asleep again. Apparently he was very determined, and that’s what this doll now symbolizes. So, the idea is when you start a project, as I did with the Kelp Restoration, you fill in one of the eyes, and when you complete the project, you fill in the other. I look at this doll every day, reminding me of the commitment I made to myself to start this kelp project and to see it through. It’s a good reminder to be patient, persistent and diligent. I started down the path of the project over 15 years ago, with small pilot projects along the way. And now we are finishing up year #2 of a 4-5 year project to return 150 acres of kelp along the coast of Palos Verdes. So far so good, with over 23 acres restored, returning kelp, a healthier, more thriving ecosystem, more and better sea urchin for commercial fishermen, and partners as determined as I am to continue this work.
Buoyancy control device (BCD)
This is a serious life saving piece of equipment and so it needs to be durable. Most technical divers (this is not for recreational divers) buy one and have it the rest of their lives. I got that one on the wall in 1999, and I made so many hundreds of dives with it that it finally gave out. This one is the ghosts of my heavy duty diving past. When you dive as intensively and hard, and in such a physical dynamic environment as we do…I guess the BCD can wear out. It surprised even me!
Photos of my kids
Kids are a big part of my motivation for what I do, but that’s recent. I was always motivated by the idea to improve the conditions on our planet. That was enough. Then when I became a dad, I had the added incentive to set a good example for my sons and leave them a legacy to inherit that would support their lives and hopefully set an example, as their dad, that a certain amount of altruism and giving back to the community are key parts of a happy life.
Painting of kelp and fish
This was a real surprise. The L.A. Times did a cover story in 2005 featuring some of the early exploratory work in the kelp program. This gallery owner in Sacramento I’d never met, Barry Smith of Smith Gallery, saw the story, and sent me a note with the painting—titled “Into the Kelp Forest” by Sacramento artist Steve Memering—saying he was inspired to donate it to me. I’ve had it up ever since.
Chinese lettered painting
This piece was given to me by a former boss and it says “Like a tiger that has grown Wings”. As an early gift, it reminded me to accept and understand my boss’ opinion, and also that I should be confident in my early potential, my instincts, beyond what I thought I should be confident in.