Highlight: Big Sur and the Esselen Tribe

Big Sur from the R/V Revelle

Day 18! We have spent several days sampling recently upwelled waters located east of Big Sur, California. This beautiful and pristine mountainous section of the Central Coast is certainly pleasant to gaze at during shipboard operations when we are close to shore, especially when many of our views have been gray and full of fog. This land however, has a dark history. Big Sur is the ancestral homeland of the Esselen Tribe whose people were decimated and whose lands were stolen by Spanish colonial settlement some 250 years ago. While we are trying to better understand how this complex marine food web is impacted by external factors such as warming, it is important to acknowledge the forceful take-over of the coastline occupied by Native Californian tribes. As noted previously, the upwelling in this region results in high productivity and abundant marine foodstocks, which were historically utilized by the Esselen people. 

Historical tribal land along the Central Coast

Recently however, there has been some good news! The Esselen Tribe and the Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC; a non-profit dedicated to environmental conservation and preserving tribal heritage) received a $4.5 million grant from the California Natural Resources Agency to purchase 1,119 acres of land back after 250 years of homelessness. In July 2020, the purchase successfully closed and the land will be used to conduct traditional ceremonies and teach the public about Esselen culture. Furthermore, it will be shared with other Central Coast tribes who were also decimated during the Mission Era. 

Esselen tribe land acquisition

In addition to the tribal significance of this land, the purchased acres host endangered animals including the California spotted owl, California red-legged frog and contains the Little Sur River which is the Central Coast’s most important spawning stream for the threatened south-central coast steelhead. The Esselen tribe are committed to conserving this critical habitat and the species that occupy it. While this land acquisition pales in comparison to the land the Esselen people historically held, this is an excellent start in acknowledging and working to restore ancestral lands back to Native Californian tribes. The CCE LTER acknowledges that we are conducting science near the ancestral home of the Esselen people who we owe honor and gratitude to.

California Steelhead Trout

For more information about the Esselen people, check out the following website. 


-Ralph Torres (Aluwihare lab)

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