Rick Starr, the former director of the California Sea Grant Extension Program, was selected by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Research Activity Panel as the recipient of the 2022 Ed Ricketts Memorial Award. The award was created in 1986 “to honor scientists who have exhibited exemplary work throughout their career and advanced the status of knowledge in the field of marine science.” Starr will provide a corresponding lecture on the science of seascape ecology on Oct 26 from 7-8 p.m. at the Sanctuary Exploration Center in Santa Cruz. A virtual option is also available for those who cannot attend in person and register in advance here.
Could you give a quick summary of your research background?
I don't know that it's easy to give a quick summary because I've done so many different things. But I can say that my career has been focused on providing scientific information to allow policymakers to make better choices about utilization of natural resources.
What does the 2022 Ricketts Award mean to you?
This was an award presented to me by my peers — that is, other researchers in the Monterey Bay Area. And this is a hotbed for marine research. It's one of the world centers in marine research. And for people who are working here to nominate and select me for this award means a great deal to me because it means that other scientists in this area feel there's been value in my work. And I really appreciate that.
Why did you choose seascape ecology as your lecture topic?
I thought about talking about the work that I've done throughout my career. I spent much of the last 20 or 30 years working on the concepts of marine reserves, and I'm still working on the evaluation of the California marine protected area program. But I thought this was an opportunity for me to look forward rather than looking backwards. I wanted to talk to people about the concept of seascape ecology, which is analogous to landscape ecology in that we're taking a broader look at human uses and animal uses of different types of habitats in the ocean and approaching conservation and management of those habitats from a broader spatial scale. People talk about the Pacific Flyway for birds and the need to conserve wetland habitats all along the Pacific coast to protect birds when they're migrating. And we need to do that in the ocean as well.
Most of our research historically has been on particular locations or particular habits that serve particular species in the ocean. And it's only been relatively recently — the last 20 years or so — that we've had the analytical and mapping tools available to us to start taking a look at the spatial relationships in the ocean like we've been doing on land for 40 or 50 years. So I wanted to talk about the progression of seascape ecology and seascape science so that people could begin to think about conservation and management in a spatially explicit context.
Is there anything in the lecture that you’re particularly excited about?
We've gotten a good start on seascape science. And what I think we need to do is develop some principles and concepts that tie a lot of pieces of work that researchers have done together.
The state of California has had the foresight and the money to map a lot of California’s continental shelf using high-resolution mapping products. And some researchers up and down the coast have started using that information to generate maps of probabilities of species occurrences. And yet there are some noticeable gaps in our understanding of that and our ability to use those maps to predict abundances of different types of species. And the reason is that the ocean is a three-dimensional medium.
The ocean currents play a huge role in how animals are responding to the habitats that they're living in. We need to develop some better models about how animals are interacting with changing currents. And we need to do some more work to understand how different habitats are connected via fish movements.
Anything else you’d like people to know about this event or the award?
I'm very thankful to my colleagues who have acknowledged the value of my work, but anybody in my position — or anybody who's conducting research — is really dependent upon a lot of other people. And I've been fortunate to have worked with a lot of great graduate students and great colleagues over my career who helped out in this research. It takes a village of people to conduct the types of work we've been doing, and I'm really thankful to have been able to work with great people.
I'm also really happy and glad and thankful that I worked for California Sea Grant throughout my career, because I really appreciate the perspective and mission of California Sea Grant. They've tried to fund good people to do good things in our coastal oceans, and it’s great to see them support that approach to coastal resource management.
About California Sea Grant
NOAA’s California Sea Grant College Program funds marine research, education and outreach throughout California. Headquartered at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, California Sea Grant is one of 34 Sea Grant programs in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce.