The Bay Foundation CEO Tom Ford is focused on kelp forest restoration and preserving ocean life

TOM FORD Photo Courtesy The Bay Foundation

Tom Ford has always had a connection with water. This connection brought him from a rural area in Pennsylvania to Los Angeles to preserve ocean life through influencing national and international policies, as well as helping the next generation of conservationists.

Ford and his family live in Santa Monica and have been on the Westside since 1998. He wanted to live somewhere where he could be in or near the water all the time. Now, Ford serves as the chief executive officer of The Bay Foundation, an organization that studies and preserves the bay and local coastal waters. He said that the kelp forests he’s seen are one of the most beautiful wildlife experiences he’s witnessed.

“It is so unbelievably beautiful and majestic, and right next to it is this humongous city with all of its priorities and all these other human-focused aspects,” Ford said. “And it’s this unreal contrast in my mind of this unbelievable thing that is right next door, that most people don’t ever get to see, that they don’t get to appreciate and understand.”

Ford has been focusing on the restoration of kelp forests since he moved to LA. He was drawn to kelp initially because of his connection with water. Ford loves being around these forests as it parallels being in water as tall as an 80-story building with fish and shafts of light shooting down through columns of algae. Through studying kelp forest dynamics for his graduate work at UCLA, Ford learned that kelp forests are declining around the world because they are breaking.

However, Ford came to understand the structure of these forests, and developed approaches to save them through restoration. Initially, Ford viewed this process as preserving homes for fish and other wildlife that consider kelp to be their shelter. However, it also nourishes ecosystems by ending up in between sand grains, at the bottom of the ocean, among other places. Kelp also serves to reduce climate change by sequestering carbon in its tissues.

Ford is also looking at how fishermen and their families can have viable jobs and provide local sources of seafood, along with other factors.

“Now we’re on to looking at the interchange with these other ecosystems, peripherals of the kelp forest and how kelp can help us with climate change,” Ford said.

Ford’s work with kelp forests has gained recognition in Canada. In British Columbia, the Haida Nation is having the same problems as Los Angeles.

“The restoration methods we developed are being applied in British Columbia and working for them,” Ford said. “The opportunity to help that culture with the results of my work was something I never anticipated.”

Ford is a senior lecturer at Loyola Marymount University’s Environmental Science Program and co-executive director of its Coastal Research Institute. Through his work there and at The Bay Foundation, Ford is providing students with real-world experiences in applied science by studying the nature around them.

“For those students, [I’d] love to give them tangible examples and incorporate them in the real-world work that we’re doing so that they have that experience and that power to know that they can change the world,” Ford said. “Being able to pass that along has been maybe one of the greater gifts I may ever have a chance to share with my fellow human beings.”

The Bay Foundation is also working on adapting the Los Angeles coastline to rising sea levels, in addition to numerous other projects focused on sustainability. However, Ford advises everyone to do their part in reducing emissions of fossil fuels, while supporting environmental organizations, including The Bay Foundation, through donations, volunteering and more.

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— Holly Jenvey