Bay Nature magazineJanuary-March 2015


Letter from the Publisher: Eye-Opening “Functional Beauty”

January 1, 2015

f you’re going to succeed as a species in this world, you need to get three things right: shelter, food, reproduction. Simple. But it’s the variety of ways in which living organisms go about meeting these three basic needs that gives rise to the mind-blowing diversity of life on the planet—all the shapes and colors and textures that living things come in.

So take marine algae—otherwise known as seaweed … please. That common name itself is sadly indicative of the level of respect we show these hardy—and beautiful—organisms. I’ll speak for myself. At local beaches, I usually scan the horizon for whales, peer at the water closer in for sea ducks and harbor seals, and look for sandpipers along the shore. But until recently, I’ve given short shrift to the seaweed washed up at the surf line.

But then I came across the images of San Francisco artist Josie Iselin in her book An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed and my eyes were opened. (Don’t you love it when that happens?)

Shortly thereafter I was on a beach in Mendocino and dug into several piles of washed-up seaweed. With my new knowledge and a little patience I was able to identify five distinct species all tumbled together. And I was able to see the structural differences between the various seaweeds as distinct adaptive strategies for the necessities of survival in the harsh ocean environment: the need for one end to have the tensile strength to stay attached to a substrate in the constantly moving ocean water while another part is buoyant enough to remain near the surface for photosynthesis. Similar diversity was also on display at low tide on the rocky marine terrace below the Pigeon Point Lighthouse on the San Mateo coast. Here in the intertidal zone, there’s a profusion of rock-hugging seaweeds that have to survive periods of the day totally submerged in water, periods when they’re battered by the waves, and periods when they’re high and almost dry. There were the bristly low-growing brown mats of “Brillo pad” seaweed (Endocladia muricata), the rough reddish blades of “Turkish towels” (Chondracanthus exasperatus), the slimy green iridescent sheets of Mazzaella, the fine articulated “branches” of red coralline algae, and many others. All competing for space on the rocks where they are bathed twice a day in the nutrient-rich waters of the Pacific. Same place, same conditions, but completely different shapes and textures evolved to take advantage of that place and those conditions. So functional. And yet, at the same time, so beautiful.

Having our eyes opened to the “functional beauty” of local nature—from lichens to seaweeds to poppies to redwoods—is what we’ve enjoyed doing at Bay Nature for 14 years now. If you’ve enjoyed this as well, we’d like to invite you to celebrate those 14 years of sharing nature’s beauty at our upcoming annual awards dinner on Sunday, March 22 in Oakland. We’ll be honoring three of our local conservation heroes and enjoying Josie Iselin’s eye-opening presentation on the beauty and diversity of California seaweed. Find out about our award recipients and the event at

About the Author

From 2001-2017, David Loeb served as editor and then publisher of Bay Nature magazine, and executive director of the nonprofit Bay Nature Institute. A Bay Area resident since 1973, David moved here after graduating from college in Boston. The decision was largely based on a week spent visiting friends in San Francisco the previous January, which had included a memorable day at Point Reyes National Seashore. In the late 1990s, after many years working for the Guatemala News and Information Bureau in Oakland, David had the opportunity to spend more time hiking and exploring the parks and open spaces of the Bay Area. Increasingly curious about what he was seeing, he began reading natural history books, attending naturalist-led hikes and natural history courses and lectures, and volunteering for several local conservation organizations.

This was rewarding, but he began to feel that the rich natural diversity of the Bay Area deserved a special venue and a dedicated voice for the whole region, to supplement the many publications devoted to one particular place or issue. That’s when the germ of Bay Nature magazine began to take shape. In February 1997, David contacted Malcolm Margolin, publisher of Heyday Books and News from Native California, with the idea of a magazine focused on nature in the Bay Area, and was delighted with Malcolm’s enthusiastic response. Over the course of many discussions with Malcolm, publishing professionals, potential funders, and local conservation and advocacy groups, the magazine gradually took shape and was launched in January 2001. It is still going strong, with a wider base of support than ever.

Now retired, David contributes to his Bay Nature column "Field Reports."

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