Global Oceans Awards to be presented to two students at Long Marine Lab's annual Gourmet Dinner benefit

The Friends of Long Marine Lab will present the first Global Oceans Awards at the group's annual Gourmet Dinner benefit event on Sunday, March 21. The awards are a new addition to the annual dinner, which raises funds for the education programs at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Congressman Sam Farr will make the award presentations at the gala event, which will take place at the Bittersweet Bistro in Rio Del Mar.

The first Global Oceans Awards recognize two of the top students engaged in ocean-related research projects at UC Santa Cruz. Veronica Vigilant, a third-year graduate student in ocean sciences, is studying domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by certain marine algae, and how it affects marine life in Monterey Bay. Morgan Bond, a first-year graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology, is studying the growth and survival of steelhead trout on the Central California Coast.

"We believe students like these will play a crucial role in promoting a better understanding and appreciation for the oceans in the decades to come," said Richard Beal, education chair of the Friends of Long Marine Lab Board of Directors.

The Gourmet Dinner has long been one of the group's most popular fundraising events. It is hosted this year by the proprietors of the Bittersweet Bistro, chef Thomas Vinolus and his wife Elizabeth. The dinner will feature a five-course feast paired with fine wines from award-winning California vintners.

Beal said that when the Friends of Long Marine Lab Board of Directors discussed making an award ceremony part of the annual fundraising dinner, they decided to honor young scientists at the start of their careers, and to have the awards presented to them by someone noted for lifetime achievements in marine conservation. The group chose Congressman Farr, who was instrumental in the establishment of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and has been a reliable champion of ocean conservation efforts, to be the first presenter of the Global Oceans Awards.

Vigilant and Bond had the top-ranked proposals among the 15 students who received research support from the Friends of Long Marine Lab Student Research Awards this year. These awards provided nearly $10,000 in total funding for undergraduate and graduate student research projects in the marine sciences.

Vigilant is working with Mary Silver, professor of ocean sciences, who has been studying the domoic acid toxin and the algae that produce it since the early 1990s. Blooms of the toxin-producing algae occur periodically in Monterey Bay and have been linked to poisonings of sea lions and seabirds. Previous research has shown how the toxin moves through the food web in surface waters, accumulating in sardines and anchovies that feed on the algae, and eventually poisoning animals that eat those fish. Vigilant is investigating whether the toxin also moves into deep waters offshore, where other organisms might be affected.

Bond is working with Mark Carr, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Bruce MacFarlane, a researcher at the National Marine Fisheries Service lab in Santa Cruz, to study the steelhead that spawn in Scott Creek north of Santa Cruz. This and other coastal steelhead populations in California are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Bond's research focuses on the juvenile fish as they move downstream and make the transition from the freshwater habitat where they hatched to the ocean where they will grow to adulthood. In particular, he is interested in the factors that influence the growth rates of the juveniles and their subsequent survival in the ocean.

For more information about the benefit Gourmet Dinner, or to make reservations, call Lisa Rose at (831) 459-3694. Reservations are $150 per person.