Serendipity on the Shore

A chance encounter on the beach leads to a $3 million gift to the Santa Barbara Coastal LTER
Sonia Fernandez
Group of four: two scientists, and two donors, woman and man, in the middle

From left, Bob Miller, Julie Black, Bradford Jones and Kyle Emery. Photo Credit: Courtesy Image

For marine ecologist Kyle Emery, it was just another day on the job. Surveying the beach and kelp forest at Arroyo Quemada with his trusty drone, he was conducting research at a Santa Barbara Coastal Long-Term Ecological Research (SBC LTER) site, where scientists regularly measure the productivity and condition of the giant kelp stands and the organisms that live among them.

Little did Emery know that a casual conversation with a trio of people strolling on the sand would result in a generous gift to the LTER and related kelp forest research.

“As I was surveying, a couple and their friend approached me and asked some questions about the project and what research is going on at the site, out in the kelp forest and on the beach,” recalled Emery, a UC Santa Barbara Ph.D. graduate turned NSF Ocean Sciences postdoctoral fellow now based at UCLA . Emery told them about the kelp beds and the creatures that rely on them and on the kelp wrack that washes onshore, as well as the mission of the LTER to understand kelp forest ecology.

“They were curious about the project in general, and they mentioned being interested, and if they could learn more and contribute,” Emery said. 

The couple, it turns out, included Bradford Jones — co-founder of venture capital firm Redpoint Ventures — and his partner, Julie Black. Their contribution? A $3 million gift to establish the Santa Barbara Coastal Research Fund, an endowment created to support SBC LTER leadership, undergraduate scholars, graduate and postdoctoral fellows and program operations. The funds will also go toward expanding research at the LTER and related work at UCSB’s Marine Science Institute.

“The ocean around Santa Barbara is a special place,” Jones said. “It is home to abundant sea life, from kelp beds to dolphins. It is an amazing experience to kayak along the coast and experience them up close.

“Whenever we visit our second home in North Goleta, we walk along the beach and kayak in the water,” he continued. “Protecting this coastal stretch is very important to us, and enhancing our understanding of the coast is integral to protecting it.”

“This gift will allow us to elevate the science in the project by enabling us to recruit new talent and to focus more on doing novel, cutting-edge science,” said Robert Miller, SBC LTER director. “It’s been a real pleasure to connect with Brad and Julie, and their generosity is testament to their value of the natural world and science, as well as the people that do it.”

Established by the National Science Foundation, the SBC LTER is one part of a network of long-term ecological research sites created around the world. It focuses on the site’s kelp forests that underlie diverse communities of fish, crustaceans, mammals and birds that live in the water and on the nearby shores. As climate change shifts the conditions in the oceans, understanding how it affects marine and coastal ecosystems becomes ever more crucial.

“There are so many new things we have yet to discover about the kelp forests of the Santa Barbara Coastal LTER and the many connections it has with the coast,” said UC Santa Barbara Vice Chancellor for Research Joe Incandela. “Thanks to this generous gift from Bradford Jones and Julie Black, our researchers will be able to further expand our knowledge of this wild and beautiful ecosystem that is important to all of us.”

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Chance Encounter on Beach Leads to $3 Million for Santa Barbara Coastal Research

Santa Barbara Independent, Oct 08, 2022 | 9:49 AM

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