UC Santa Cruz Professor of ocean sciences Dr. Raphael Kudela encourages citizens to be “informed, engaged and heard” regarding their water quality. Photo by Daniel Green.

Few resources are as important as water. From oceans to fresh lakes, humans have been using this invaluable resource for thousands of years.

Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at UC Santa Cruz, gave a lecture at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center Nov. 18 on water quality in the Monterey Bay and greater California Coast. The lecture was called, “How’s the Water Today? Changes in Water Quality at the Land-Sea Interface.” His lecture touched on both the factors that affect water quality as well as the implications of that water quality on those that depend on it.

Kudela’s talk was part of a running series of science lectures called Science Sundays, given at the Seymour Center every third Sunday of the month, that attract viewers of all ages.

“It was a great opportunity to listen to Dr. Kudela speak,” said Elena Pagter, a marine biology major at UCSC.

In his talk, Kudela said that because people have both indirect and direct impacts on water quality, it is important to discuss exactly what human practices are impacting water.

“The ocean is quite literally our backyard,” Kudela said. “We all learn about this starting in grade school. Our ocean ecosystem and land ecosystem are all connected — we are all part of the same system.”

The Monterey Bay Area, primarily because of its prominence in industrial agriculture and proximity to local farms, is a major source of nutrients that seep into local waters. These nutrients, Kudela said, can cause major issues for the local environment.

“We are feeding the nation, and feeding the world, and to do that we need lots and lots of nutrients,” Kudela said. “More nutrients in water leads to more problems.”

The nutrients in the water that surrounds Monterey Bay affect the amount of nitrogen in the bay’s water, Kudela said. In areas where freshwater flows into the ocean, known as watersheds, 200–500 kilograms of nutrients per square kilometer flows into the ocean annually. In fact, the output of nitrogen in the Monterey Bay Area is increasing at an exponential rate.

This rise in nitrogen can cause a number of issues along coastal waters, Kudela said, one of the most significant being red tides. Red tides occur when concentrations of phytoplankton are so high in the water that they cause red discoloration. They are often associated with natural toxins, causing marine mammals, birds and even humans to become sick, sometimes dangerously so.

“Those who live in the ocean can’t avoid it, and are thus exposed to it,” Kudela said.

These red tides are driven primarily by bacteria and are particularly common around the Santa Cruz Wharf.

Kudela said that urea, an organic compund that can be found in the urine of mammals, is found around the Santa Cruz Wharf all the time, a good indicator that humans are having an influence on the system. Despite trends of increasing problems in our water, he said humans are still capable of avoiding bigger issues.

“We’re not nearly as bad off as we could be and there’s plenty of opportunity to change that trajectory of getting worse to getting better,” Kudela said. “Our water quality is only going to stay good if we listen to what the environment is telling us. We should pay attention to the small issues before they get bigger.”

After educating the audience on the current quality of water in the Monterey Bay Area, Kudela laid out some concrete ways in which local citizens can reverse the local damage that’s been done and continue to lead the nation in advances in water quality. However, he said this may be difficult because water quality is a global, multi-faceted problem.

“As global increases in human population, in fertilizer use, in oil consumption happen, there has to be consequences,” Kudela said. “There is inevitable degradation of the environment.”

As a state, Kudela said California is the leader in the nation in terms of water quality. As a community, Monterey Bay continues to make incredible advances in science, management and policy.

Kudela said citizens can be “informed, engaged and heard” about local water issues by using local resources like the Seymour Center. Suzanne Hebert, the Youth Programs Manager at the Seymour Center said Science Sundays were a great way to get involved.

“We have a lot of great topics that are pertinent to what students are working on,” Hebert said.

Kudela also said that by engaging in programs with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), using websites such as his ocean data center and voting, individuals can continue to make a difference.

“The information is there for you if you choose to get it,” Kudela said.



Science Sundays will be resumed in January 2013. 

Information for the next lecture can be found at: 



Professor Kudela’s data website: