Category Archives: Post Blog

Those that used the hill before us

By Jim Harvey (7 August 2015)

The hill that MLML occupies today was part of a dune field that became exposed as the last glacial period ended 12,000 years ago when sea level was 420 feet lower. About 8,000 years ago, Native Americans first arrived on the hill and they brought with them organics that increased nutrients in the soil and fertilized the plants. The people of the region around Elkhorn Slough have been called Calendaru (people of “Bay Houses”), used the Ohlone language, and were known as Costanoan by the Spaniards (Fig. 1).

local tribes dance at MLML dedication
Figure 1. Descendants of the local tribes danced at the groundbreaking of the new MLML lab on the hill.


The Native Americans inhabiting the area around Elkhorn Slough were hunter gathers; hunting deer, elk, sea otter, sea lions, geese, quail, ducks, robins, rabbits, shellfish, and fish and gathering herbs, seeds, and acorns. The more interesting animals they harvested, at least to me as a marine mammalogist, were northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) pups (Fig. 2). The fact that pups were taken indicated that a rookery existed in Moss Landing area from 5,000 to 1,000 years ago (Burton et al. 2001). Northern fur seals do not have any mainland breeding areas today likely because of past hunting by Native Americans. We know the foraging habits of the Native Americans on the hill because there exists a large archeological site (CA-MNT-234) just to the leeward side of the hill (Breschini and Haversat 1995).

northern fur seals
Figure 2. Northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) on Channel Islands. This is likely similar to the scene that existed on Moss Landing beach some 5,000 to 1,000 years ago. Photo by Morgan Ball.


In preparation for obtaining permits to build MLML on the hill, MLML funded a study of the prehistoric resources at the site. The Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Inc. conducted a thorough examination of the site and made recommendations for preservation. Their report details the incredible flora and fauna use by the Natives of this area (Fig. 3).

artifacts from archaelogical dig
Figure 3. Artifacts recovered on the hill during the archeological study. Left image is two arrow heads, middle image is fishing weights, and right image is a grisly bear tooth. These items can be seen at the visitors center as you enter the main lab.


The Native Americans placed their main encampment on the leeward side of the hill and likely used the site seasonally to capture food in the nearby slough and coastal environment. Now MLML occupies the site, the building is on the windward side (to capture the views of the ocean and keep the building out of view from the landward side), the volleyball court is on the leeward side, and occupants of the new MLML building capture specimens year round in Elkhorn Slough and the coastal environment. We also share the Native American’s respect and awe for the place we occupy.


Those that Used the Hill Before Us: Part II

By Jim Harvey (12 August 2015)

If you come to the main lab of MLML today you see a spectacular building (LEED Gold certified), with amazing views, and well-outfitted teaching and research spaces. What you don’t see is that there are two large cement foundation slabs and one smaller one nestled under the cypress and eucalyptus trees just to your right as you come up the hill (Fig. 1).

54th foundations on the hill
Figure 1. In the foreground are the cement footings for the kitchen of the African-American 54th Coast Artillery Regiment encampment on the hill at Moss Landing, with the north wing of the current MLML main lab in the background.


“In the days immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States military scrambled to provide personnel for the protection of America’s vast unguarded coastlines from incursion by Axis powers” (Breschini et al. 1996). In April or May 1942, the all-black 54th Coast Artillery Regiment arrived under cover of darkness to establish an encampment on the hill where MLML now resides (Fig. 2).

54th on the hill
Figure 2. Personnel and one of the four WWI French 155mm guns of the 54th Coast Artillery Regiment on the hill at Moss Landing (sometime between 1942 and 1944).


Lou Calcagno (former Monterey County Supervisor and supporter of MLML) remembered that there were five buildings in the grove of trees, and the four gun emplacements were dug into the sand at the crest of the hill, at the location of the future water tower. The 54th had arrived to protect the central CA coast, and remained on the hill at Moss Landing until mid 1944.

At the end of WWII, the Sandholdt family came into possession of the buildings, and they were eventually sold and moved off the property. During the archeological dig before the new MLML building was constructed they found shell casings, military dog tags, and a large pile of catsup bottles, a testament to the cuisine of the 54th.  Amazing history on this hill.



The Beginnings of MLML


In recognition that 2016 marks the 50th Anniversary of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories .

By Jim Harvey  (29 June 2015)

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) was conceived by professors at San Jose State College in the early 1960s, and in December 1965 the facility was purchased for $210,000 from the Beaudette Foundation for Biological Research (Fig. 1). The MLML consortium initially included the California State College campuses from San Jose, San Francisco, and Hayward (now East Bay),  each contributing $20,000, which along with a grant from NSF for $150,000 provided the purchase price for the property. Almost immediately the campuses from Sacramento and Fresno joined the consortium.

aerial of Beaudette building in 1965Figure 1. The Beaudette Foundation building, photographed in 1965, became the first MLML facility. The future volleyball court is conspicuously missing at that time.

Dr. John Harville (Fig. 2) became the first Director, and under his leadership the Policy Board established curriculum, staffing, and operating policies.

John Harville in MLMl LibraryFigure 2. John Harville, the first Director of MLML, photographed in the old library.

James Nybakken (CSC Hayward) was the first permanent faculty member joining Harville to teach the inaugural classes at MLML in Spring 1966. The first complete set of courses was offered in Fall 1966, when Oceanography, Vertebrate Zoology, Invertebrate Zoology, Marine Ecology, Literature of Marine Science, Research, and Algology were taught. We now realize that algology is an incorrect use of the word because it refers to the study of pain, and that phycology is the correct terminology (for which I am reminded by Drs. Foster and Graham all the time). Fourteen students attended the Fall 1966 classes, they came from the campuses of Hayward and San Jose (Fig. 3). By Spring 1968, there were 55 enrolled students, 30 of them graduate students, representing all five of the consortium campuses.

First class of MLML in 1966 Figure 3. Some of the attendants of the MLML dedication in 1967.

The official dedication of MLML occurred on 28 April 1967, and was attended by 250 invited guests and the MLML community. Lieutenant Governor Robert Finch delivered the dedication address and Chancellor Glenn Dumke provided introductions. The following day approximately 500 persons attended the first MLML Open House, establishing a tradition that continues today.

Much of this information was taken from the History of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories: The Early Years by James Nybakken.

This blog will be one of many, posted once a week until August 2016, as we celebrate 50 years of excellence in marine science and education at MLML.