The Hopkins Marine Life Refuge: Background and History

2005 to present:

November 2005: the HMLR was designated the "Hopkins State Marine Reserve"

2006-7: During the MLPA process the HSMR underwent expansion and "Hopkins" was removed from the name. The new Lovers Point State Marine Reserve boundaries and regulations took effect on September 21, 2007

October 1, 2014 the name of the reserve was changed to the Lovers Point - Julia Platt State Marine Reserve.

See map.

Prior to 2005:

The Hopkins Seaside Laboratory of Stanford University was founded in 1892 with two main purposes: to encourage the study of marine biology, and to provide a place where biologists of all disciplines could work near the marine organisms found along the California coast. After a careful survey of possible sites, the laboratory was built on Point Aulon (now called Lover's Point) in Pacific Grove. The first Hopkins bulletin announcing the opening of the laboratory indicates that the biologists on the teaching staff were pleased with their choice: "The coast line at this point offers every variety of rocky and sandy shores, and the variety and abundance of marine life is exceptionally great."

In 1916, 24 years after it was founded, the laboratory was moved and the name was changed to the Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. At that time, Pacific Grove was expanding around Point Aulon and the beach and rocky intertidal below the laboratory were becoming a favorite gathering spot for the local residents. The professors working at the laboratory felt that a larger, more isolated location would allow them greater control over the shoreline. Point Almeja (now called Mussel Point, China Point, or Cabrillo Point) was chosen because it was located in an undeveloped area between the communities of Monterey and Pacific Grove.

Prior to the establishment of a marine station on the site, Point Almeja had already enjoyed a colorful history. Indian middens (piles of abalone and mussel shells) and stone mortars which have been found on the site are the remnants of the earliest residents of the area, the Ohlone indians. Later, following the discovery of Monterey Bay by Cabrillo, the land became part of a Mexican land grant known as Point Pinos Rancho. In the early 1860s the Mexican land grant was acquired by David Jacks and he leased Point Almeja to a group of Chinese fisherman and their families who had lived on the site since 1853. The Chinese village occupied much of the present site of Hopkins Marine Station, and by 1870 it was a community of more than 60 people. Using small boats launched from what is now Agassiz beach the Chinese became Monterey's first squid fishermen, and they enjoyed a lucrative export trade with their homeland. In 1880 Jacks sold his land holdings to the San Francisco-based Pacific Improvement Company (PIC). This led to a long conflict between the Chinese residents of Point Almeja and their corporate landlords who wished to evict them, thereby raising the value of the surrounding property. Sandy Lydon, a local historian, points out that Hopkins Marine Station is a monument to the resistance of the Chinese who lived on Point Almeja because they presented an obstacle to the commercial or residential development of the property by the PIC. In May 1906 the conflict came to a sudden conclusion when an extensive fire of unknown origin destroyed much of the village. The PIC, in an attempt to stimulate development of the surrounding property, donated Point Almeja to the University of California for the establishment of a marine station like the one already being operated by Stanford University at Point Aulon. Eventually the land was transferred to Stanford and it became the home of Hopkins Marine Station in 1916.

During the early years Hopkins Marine Station shared the property with the Monterey Boatworks, a boat-building operation which built and repaired the local fleet of "Monterey double-enders." The Boatworks maintained two rail systems to facilitate hauling boats out of the water. Also, the Hovden Cannery had a warehouse (now the Fisher building) on the property and large floating hoppers anchored offshore. With the decline of sardine fishing in Monterey Bay, Stanford University eventually acquired the Monterey Boatworks and the Hovden Cannery. The latter property was sold and is now the home of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

For reasons that are in some ways similar to the ones that attracted the Chinese to the site over 130 years ago, Mussel Point has proven to be an excellent location for an institution devoted to marine research and education, in terms of both habitat diversity and ease of access to these habitats. The rocky intertidal is extensive, with offshore reefs and small islands which are accessible at low tide. Besides providing an area for the scientific study of marine invertebrates and algae, these reefs and offshore rocks are an important sanctuary for harbor seals, sea otters, and a variety of shore birds. Further offshore, submerged granite outcroppings provide the substrate for a spectacular kelp forest community. The range of subtidal habitats found off Mussel Point is representative of the entire coastal area between Point Pinos and the Coast Guard Breakwater. On the leeward side of the point is a protected beach which is useful for year-round water access for scuba diving and launching small boats, activities which are an integral part of the research and teaching at Hopkins Marine Station.

The biological importance of the intertidal and subtidal areas off Hopkins Marine Station was recognized by the State of California in 1931 when legislation was adopted establishing the Hopkins Marine Life Refuge. The HMLR is the second oldest Marine Life Refuge in California; the San Diego Marine Life Refuge of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography was established in 1929. The legislation defined the boundaries of the refuge and stated that collecting marine invertebrates or plants within the area was unlawful if performed by any person other than an affiliate or licensee of Stanford University or the University of California. The essential features of this important legislation were retained when it was superceded by sections 10657 and 10901 of the California Fish and Game Code nearly 30 years later. The Hopkins Marine Life Refuge received additional protection in 1974 when the California State Water Resources Control Board designated it as an Area of Special Biological Significance. This designation ensures that the coastal water remains free of chemical and thermal pollution. In 1984 legislative changes were made in the California Fish and Game Code sections pertaining to the Hopkins Marine Life Refuge (sections 10502, 10502.5, 10657, 10657.5, and 10901). The result of this legislation is that
1) a Director of the Hopkins Marine Life Refuge has been appointed to issue permits for scientific collecting within the refuge;
2) taking fish, marine invertebrates and plants without such a permit is prohibited; and
3) the boundaries on two sides of the refuge were extended to coincide with the Pacific Grove Marine Gardens Fish Refuge.

No other shoreline area in California has been studied as intensively as the Hopkins Marine Life Refuge. The area has been used primarily by scientists and students from Stanford University for field observation and identification of species, establishment of ecological study sites, and collection of specimens for laboratory observation and experimentation. In the past 30 years over 600 research papers dealing with various aspects of marine life in the refuge have been published by scientists working at Hopkins Marine Station. In addition, researchers from numerous other academic institutions and several governmental agencies have obtained permission to perform their work in the refuge.

After 68 years of this intensive scientific study on the shoreline of Mussel Point the area is still an ideal location for studying the natural community structure of the nearshore environment. Largely this is due to careful management by the scientists and teachers working at the marine station. The faculty has adopted a set of guidelines governing the use of the area by all persons affiliated with Hopkins Marine Station. These guidelines specify that anyone wishing to enter the refuge must submit a proposal to a review committee composed of Hopkins faculty members. Only scientific and educational activities are considered. Organisms that are collected in the refuge for research or teaching purposes are often returned to the area. Laboratories requiring organisms for research that is not directly related to the ecology of the refuge usually collect their specimens elsewhere or buy them from licensed collectors. These policies will help ensure that this valuable resource remains natural, and that the potential always exists for research into questions regarding the nearshore environment.

(written by Brad Jones, October 1985)