‘Science Uncorked’ offers window seat to nature in Bodega Bay
Sometimes, despite our best-laid plans, weather just doesn’t permit. And on the North Coast near Bodega Bay, weather can be a dicey proposition year-round. But an enterprising local wine bar owner has figured out a way to bring the outdoors in: by pairing learning sessions on cutting-edge scientific research with a pint of IPA or glass of local chardonnay, with spectacular views overlooking Bodega Bay.
The “Science Uncorked” lectures at Gourmet Au Bay wine bar are the brainchild of Ellie Fairbairn and Kristin Aquilino, researchers at nearby Bodega Marine Lab - part of UC Davis’ Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute.
They coordinate the biweekly series independent of their work at BML, to communicate science to the public and inspire environmental stewardship.
A cozy, elegant space, Gourmet Au Bay was recently sold to new owner Brian Roth who, attracted by the peaceful setting, is continuing the popular event.
“My family taught me the importance of environmental issues,” he said.
“?‘Science Uncorked’ advances and supports local environmental academia, and brings the community together.”
The wine bar features small production California wines; Happy Hour lasts until 6 p.m., when the talks begin.
In late 2013, former owner Sissy Blanchard reached out, wanting to increase winter weeknight business.
“Ellie and I immediately began brainstorming ideas about a lecture series,” Aquilino recalled.
Aquilino delivered the inaugural talk: “Spa treatments, mood lighting and Barry White: Playing matchmaker for the endangered white abalone.
Fairbairn gave the next, “Baby, it’s cold outside! (and maybe a little polluted).”
Fairbairn, who coordinates education and outreach at BML, says, “As a toxicologist I study the effects of manmade chemical pollution on the embryos and larvae of the marine creatures we know and love.”
Since then, over 75 different scientists have lectured on a wide variety of topics such as toxins and oil spills; bioremediation and ecorestoration; and the effects of climate change and ocean acidification on shellfish, kelp, seagrass, sharks and corals.
Speakers range from recent graduates to distinguished professors, from UC Davis’ main campus and the BML and greater North Bay science networks. Says Aquilino, “All of them are enthusiastic about science and about sharing their work with their local community.”
Recently Aquilino lectured on white abalone imperiled by ocean acidification.
Assistant Project Scientist and director of UC Davis’ White Abalone Captive Breeding Program, she explains her research focus: “trying to save this adorable marine snail from extinction.”
Some speakers’ enthusiasm for their subjects carries over into the new spring series, or “vintage,” which began Jan. 23.
Ph.D candidate Hannah Palmer of BML’s Ocean Climate Lab linked wine flavor to its soil: “Some wineries extol limestone” - containing tiny ocean fossils - as the finest wine-growing soil in the world.
She spoke about the “big stories” paleoceanographers like herself can glean from sea-floor microfossils about our planet’s history.
Explaining these single-celled organisms that build their shells out of diverse materials, her passion for foraminifera (“Let’s say it together!”) is infectious.
Cows, soils birds
Another talk was offered by Kelly Garbach, Senior Ecologist at Point Blue Conservation Science - formerly Point Reyes Bird Observatory - on ecological outcomes of on-ranch conservation plans, including relationships between cows, soils and birds.
Partnering with key organizations expands public education and outreach efforts.
Other upcoming topics include: native salmons’ past and present role in California ecosystems; Director Gary Cherr on BML’s history and future; and whales, cargo ships and “the truth about how to love whales, fight climate change and save the world.”
Especially during such fractious times for science itself, these lectures showcase local coastal and marine science’s valuable role at the forefront of conservation.
Tourists and locals wander in for a glass of wine and often stay for the talks. Speakers bring major issues like climate change home for nonscientists by placing them in specific contexts.
Their important work will hopefully inspire new environmental advocates.
Much of the magic of “Science Uncorked” stems from its incomparable natural setting. For a perfect prelude, a sunset hike around the stunning bluffs of Bodega Head awaits just 10 minutes away.
From there, visitors can scan the Pacific for migrating gray whales and look out over BML (closed to the general public except for tours and seminars).
Aquilino is committed to popularizing science, and meets with elected government representatives to discuss issues like endangered species recovery and sustainable aquaculture.
She says, “?‘Science Uncorked’?” is a great way to provide a venue for communicating the latest science to our community, and it’s also an excellent opportunity for scientists to hone their skills at speaking to general audiences.”
The “Science Uncorked” lectures illustrate how scientific research contributes to understanding and addressing issues like climate change and ocean acidification, the evolving roles of humans and how these relate to everyone in Sonoma County and beyond.
They help the public stay informed and involved in their community.