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Heal the Bay president steps down to take UCLA post

January 10, 2012 | 12:25 pm

Mark gold
The head and public face of Heal the Bay, one of California’s leading environmental advocacy groups, is stepping down after 23 years with the Santa Monica-based nonprofit, the group announced Tuesday.

Mark Gold, president of the environmental group focused on the health of Santa Monica Bay and waters up and down the West Coast, is leaving to accept a position as associate director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, where he has taught as an adjunct professor and serves on its board.

Heal the Bay is best known for its Beach Report Card that gives letter grades to hundreds of beaches in California, Oregon and Washington based on water quality. The group also advocates against water pollution and marine debris, for environmental education and marine habitat conservation, and operates the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

Gold, 48, joined Heal the Bay as a volunteer in 1986 and was hired as its first employee, a staff scientist, in 1988. He went on to become the group's executive director in 1994, was named its president in 2006 and has been the public face of the group, an outspoken environmental watchdog who often appears at public hearings and pushes for state and local coastal protection laws.

Gold, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology and his doctorate in environmental science and engineering at UCLA, said he was excited by the opportunity to return to his alma mater and try something new and different: building up its environmental program.

"With everything going on with the environment here in the region, it has the potential to be one of the premier environmental education facilities in the nation, and I really want to be a part of that," he said.

Gold said he is proud of his tenure at Heal the Bay. He has spent his entire adult life building the group into what it is today and said its hard work has helped make a huge difference in quality of life for Southern Californians and aquatic creatures alike.

"Think about where Santa Monica Bay is today versus where we were when I first started," he said. "We don’t have a dead zone in the bay, we don’t have fish with tumors ... the beaches are so much cleaner. We don’t have these sewage spills that were commonplace in the 1980s. We have marine protected areas."

An announcement by UCLA said Gold will lead efforts to build the institute's education, research and public outreach program, spend half his time working for UCLA's development arm to attract donations to the institute and continue working as an adjunct professor.

"Mark has a genius for translating science so that it can be useful to local and state government agencies," Glen MacDonald, director of the institute, said in the announcement. "He also knows virtually everyone in the environmental community. The nexus that he can create between UCLA's strengths and the environmental community will be a tremendous benefit, not just to the university but the whole region."

Heal the Bay said Gold’s departure has been in the works for some time and that he will remain on the its board, which will be meeting to determine the organization's management structure. His duties at UCLA begin Jan. 30.


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Photo: Heal the Bay president Mark Gold, left, and policy analyst Roger Gorke in 1995. Credit: Cassy Cohen / Los Angeles Times