USC: FROM HISTORICAL ECOLOGY TO ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION TO URBAN ECOLOGY

by
Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek
Marine Biologist - Biogeographer - Naturalist - Environmental Historian
Ballona Institute
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, CA 90293
robertvandehoek@yahoo.com
ballonainstitute@yahoo.com
Phone: (310)821-9045

August 10, 2010


The University of Southern California (USC) began the study of urban ecology of Los Angeles virtually 100 years ago. Beginning a century ago, marine ecology and coastal ecology is the starting point, studying snails, clams, fish, dune plants, and marine algae. The first professor was Doctor Ulrey, who had many students, including Edward B. Couch (1879-1950). Edward Couch studied both marine algae at Point "Firmin" (incorrectly called Fermin today) and the native plant vegetation of the coastal Dunes of Los Angeles County. USC had a marine biological station with an aquarium in Venice, not more than about 30 minute drive by automobile or electric trolley.

In the 1920s, the arrival of Doctor Howard De Forest from the famous school of ecology at the University of Chicago was prescient. Following him, soon afterword, was a woman graduate student of the University of Chicago, with a master of science degree in ecology. Her name was Edith Purer, and she would conduct a classic study of the native plant vegetation of the coastal dunes of Los Angeles County and San Diego. Later, she would go on to study salt marsh vegetation and vernal pools from an ecological point of view in southern California. Edith would go on to be come a famous landscape painter, including native plants in many of her paintings. And USC had a display and gathering and showing of her art in the 1960s. The archives and special collections at USC has the announcement of her exhibition.

In the 1940s and 1950s, marine invertebrate zoology and marine botany (algae) studies come to the forefront via the Allan Hancock Foundation, which was well-endowed to do marine science investigation. I was fortunate in the late 1970s to be invited on an oceanography and deep sea search for an evolutionary link of the Mollusca and Annelida, on the Velero IV. I found one of four individuals of the rare animals known as the Monoplacophora.

In 1970s, the Wrigley family coordinated with USC to establish the marine station on Santa Catalina Island. Unfortunately, the placement of this center destroyed a historic botanical collecting location and summer home of the famous naturalist of Catalina, Blanche Trask. This environmental history of this catastrophe has never been told until now in this essay, right here, in this paragraph.

In the 1990s, as a representative of Los Angeles County, I visited the dedication and opening of the new Wrigley Institute of the Environment on Catalina Island at this former location of rare plants collected by Blanche Trask, and her historic summer home, now destroyed by "progress" and the bias for interest in the marine environment over the terrestial environment. A scenario played out over and over again on the California coast, most recently at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). The Long Marine Lab has destroyed a rare habitat of wetlands, hawks, and rare plants, among many other species, in order to put a new marine lab and student dormitories there. Again, the study of the marine environment takes precedence over the precious terrestial environment and the significant loss of biodiversity. And now this terrace has become quite sterile, quite dead, except for some landscaping of plants from other parts of the world, and pest animals like rats, cockroaches, crickets, and various other pest-noxious invertebrates that exist below, around, and in the new buildings. These noxious terrestial animals scurry between the water tanks holding sea water with marine animals held captive and which eventually die in captivity for experimentation. This is part of our legacy of environmental history of the degredation of the Earth, and also a slow death of our human spirit, heart, and soul. Science has gone awry most definitely, especially marine biology and marine science. I have yet to meet another marine biologist who has the courage to speak out against progress except for Joel Hedgpeth and I.