Jellyfish and abalone in Monterey

I had an opportunity to join a jellyfish hunt with Trevor Fay, a marine biologist and co-owner of the Monterey Abalone Company, one of the few abalone farms to raise abalone in the open waters of the Pacific, and Elizabeth Murray, the chef de cuisine at Sierra Mar who is working to develop a fully sustainable ocean-to-table menu with the help of conscientious purveyors like Trevor.

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Most of the time, Trevor focuses on feeding these baby Haliotis rufescens (red abalone) under the wharf. They will gorge on a balanced diet of hand-harvested kelp and red algae for the next three to four years until they are about the size of your hand and ready to sell to restaurants including Coi, Manresa, and Sierra Mar.

IMG_1282The MAC team works in wet, cramped quarters under the wharf, sharing the maze of gangways with colonies of anemone, barking sea lions, and curious otters.

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Some mornings, Trevor gets a chance to collect jellies like this Chrysaora quinquecirrha (sea nettles) for major aquariums around the world as well as for researchers investigating everything from epidemiology to nerve function. (They are easier to spot in real life than in this photo.) You just scoop them up with a net and gently plop them into plastic bags.

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Here they are bouncing around in the holding tank back at MAC, before they’ll get shipped to their new homes. Each jellyfish is more than a single invertebrate. Jellyfish are like coral reefs on the ocean floor, bromeliads in the rainforest, and your eyebrows–a complex ecosystem that serves as home for many other organisms. See if you can you spot the crab on a ride in this photo. There’s a tiny fish darting in and out of one jelly’s tentacles too.

IMG_1132Riding back in from a morning hunt, we were welcomed with barks by these old friends under the wharf (we woke them up with our sputtering boat engine).

Recently, I’ve been reading so many disheartening stories about the rise of poaching (of elephants, rhinos, redwoods, abalone–pretty much everything so beautiful that humans have assigned them mystical powers), and the accompanying socioeconomic tangle underlying it. At times, it seems impossible to end it, but this was a day that reminded me of why we need to stay optimistic and continue working. There is still boundless diversity and natural beauty to be enjoyed and protected for those to come.

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