The Bay Foundation – a science-based organization that advocates for the Santa Monica Bay – appointed Tom Ford last month as its new Executive Director.
Ford has served as the Foundation’s Director of Marine Programs for the last four years, initiating and guiding key projects, garnering top grants, and bringing diverse groups together to protect and ensure clean water and a healthier environment for the Southern California coast.
For anyone not familiar with The Bay Foundation, can you share a little bit about what the organization does?
We are about the benefits and values of Santa Monica. What does that translate to? We work in the cities, along the coast, in the ocean, and in a number of areas where we are trying to really bring the environment back, improve the quality of life here in Los Angeles, and we do that by engaging a diverse group of people, our local municipalities, etc. to support these issues and really come up with innovative, appropriate projects to undo some of the environmental harms that surround us here in LA.
What is the current state of the Santa Monica Bay?
It’s doing much better than it had been. Certainly when 40 million people moved to the neighborhood, as happened in Southern California over the past hundred years, you’d expect some things to change. But by using really smart science – I want to underline that point – we’ve gone out there, we’ve found sources of pollution, we’ve found out what was causing problems to our wildlife; and with everybody working at the table through good times and bad, we’ve really come up with some good fixes. So things are very much on the mend out there. We do have to prepare for the challenges in the future, as well.
Can you give some examples of some of the things the Foundation has done to try to improve the Bay?
Some of our stand-alone projects have really been around environmental or ecological restoration of habitats. I’ve spent most of my time the past 15 years scuba diving off of our coast, looking at the kelp forest – which we have lost 75 percent of – and looking at the historic evidence. And now we are working with fishermen, scientists, and federal agencies to put it back. And it’s going gangbusters. We are putting back a local resource that people can harvest from recreationally or commercially, it protects our coastline, and helps mitigate pollution. So it’s a multi-benefit win.
Who works for the Foundation? Do you have volunteers or staff?
We’ve got 15 staff working full- or part-time with us and we have a fairly well-developed intern program. There are a lot of great environmental groups that you can volunteer with and there are some limited volunteer opportunities with us. But internships are really where we put our focus. We find those young people, or people coming back into the workforce and changing their direction, and really invest some time with them and them with us to really help them move forward.
Can you share more on your passion for the environment as you have dedicated your whole career to this field?
It began in cows and corn in Pennsylvania in a very small community. So [there were] no other kids my own age really to hang out with, so I would explore those creeks and forest and those trees, and that landscape became my companion in many ways. So I had a very strong foundation in experiencing nature as a youth. Once Jacques Cousteau came to my television, I was sold. And then the deal got signed in full, standing on the New Jersey shore, looking over the edge of a parking lot at two horseshoe crabs mating and I said “that’s it.” My first look at the ocean comprised that, and I said “oh man,” and it’s really been history since then. And now I’m a family man. When you look at your kids and you get to go to bed at night knowing that you are working hard to make their world a better place, it does feel good.