OPC Staff

Photo of Mark GoldMark Gold, Executive Director, Ocean Protection Council; Deputy Secretary for Ocean and Coastal Policy, California Natural Resources Agency

Mark Gold joined OPC in July of 2019. As Executive Director of OPC and the Deputy Secretary for Ocean and Coastal Policy for the California Natural Resources Agency, Mark serves as a key advisor to Governor and the Secretary of Natural Resources and directs policy, scientific research, and critical partnerships to increase protection of coastal and ocean resources in California. Prior to his appointment, he was the UCLA Associate Vice Chancellor for Environment and Sustainability where he led their Sustainable Los Angeles Grand Challenge effort. Prior to UCLA, Mark was the first hire at Heal the Bay, where he served as their President for 18 years. During that time, he worked on ocean and coastal legislation and policy, stormwater, watershed management, and marine conservation and coastal restoration issues, projects and programs. Over the course of his career, his research focused on beach water quality and health risks, as well as sustainable water resources management. Mark received his bachelor’s and master’s in Biology as well as his doctorate in Environmental Science and Engineering, all from UCLA.

Jenn Eckerle, Deputy Director, Ocean Protection Council

Jenn Eckerle joined OPC in December 2016.  As OPC’s Deputy Director, she is responsible for supervising staff and helping set the strategic priorities for coast and ocean policy in California. Before joining OPC, Jenn spent eight years as an ocean policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, where she conducted technical analysis and developed policy recommendations to advance ocean conservation. Prior to that, she was a coastal program analyst for the California Coastal Commission and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.  Jenn earned an M.S. in Marine Biology from the Florida Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Biology from the University of Vermont.  She is an East Coast transplant that has spent the last two decades trying to forget the cold winters of New York. Jenn loves being outdoors, especially when it involves camping, hiking, scuba diving or paddleboarding.

Contact: (916) 654-9055 or jenn.eckerle@resources.ca.gov

Justine Kimball, Senior Climate Change Program Manager

Justine joined the OPC in March 2019. Her work involves leading the climate change program, and focuses on sea-level rise adaptation, coastal resiliency, ocean acidification, and other efforts concerning the impacts of climate change on the ocean. Prior to joining OPC, Justine spent five years in Washington, D.C. at NOAA’s Coral Program and as a Knauss Fellow at the Office of the Oceanographer of the Navy. Justine earned her PhD from Stanford University studying deep-sea corals in the Pacific Ocean and her B.A. in Biology with a minor in Geology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Justine enjoys farmers markets, baking, and all things ocean and wilderness.

Contact : (916) 653-0539 or  justine.kimball@resources.ca.gov

Michael Esgro, Marine Ecosystems Program Manager & Tribal Liaison

Mike Esgro joined OPC in March 2018. As Marine Ecosystems Program Manager & Tribal Liaison, Mike leads OPC’s efforts to enhance coastal and marine biodiversity in California. Currently, his work focuses on implementation of the “30 by 30” goal in California’s coastal waters, protection and restoration of kelp forests, management of California’s statewide marine protected area network, and engagement with California Native American Tribes. Mike also supports elements of the California Natural Resources Agency’s broader work on biodiversity. Mike’s academic background is in subtidal marine ecology, and prior to joining OPC, he earned a B.S. in Biology from UCLA and an M.S. in Applied Marine Science from CSU Monterey Bay. His graduate research focused on MPA monitoring and the role of “de facto” marine reserves in ocean conservation.

Mike is an avid scuba diver and can usually be found underwater when not at work. Topside, he enjoys kayaking, cycling, fishing, and backpacking.

Contact: (916) 651-2497 or Michael.Esgro@resources.ca.gov

Tova Handelman, Senior Marine Protected Areas Program Manager

Tova leads OPC’s Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Management Program and works in partnership with many state and federal agencies, tribal governments, and ocean stakeholders to integrate scientific information to support decision-making regarding MPAs to best protect the health of the ocean and coastal communities. Tova’s work supports statewide MPA research and monitoring, public outreach and education, increasing compliance with MPA regulations, and ecosystem restoration efforts. She also manages OPC’s Once-Through Cooling Interim Mitigation Program. Tova first joined OPC in March 2017 as a California Sea Grant Fellow in OPC’s MPA program. She earned a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and Management from the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Policy from UC Irvine. Her master’s thesis work evaluated citizen science as a method for monitoring the rocky intertidal zone.

Contact: (916) 653-9486 or tova.handelman@resources.ca.gov

Photo of Lindsay BonitoLindsay Bonito, OPC Marine Protected Areas Program Manager
Lindsay joined the OPC team in September 2020. Her work will support the Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Management Program by working alongside state and federal agencies, coastal communities and tribal governments to collate the best available science for management decisions. Prior to OPC, Lindsay spent the last ten years at Scripps Institution of Oceanography working as a coral reef ecologist surveying reefs across the Pacific and Caribbean, and as a fish biologist examining the spatial and temporal variability of anthropogenic toxins in marine finfish around the world. She holds a BS in Environmental Systems from UC San Diego and is currently finishing her MS from Scripps where she is evaluating a federal experimental fishing program in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, NOAA, and CDFW. When she’s not behind her desk, Lindsay can be found backpacking, climbing, paddling, and trying not to pearl surfing.

Contact: lindsay.bonito@resources.ca.gov

Maria B. Rodriguez, OPC Wetlands Program Manager
Maria joined the OPC in August 2020. Maria will help lead OPC’s efforts related to coastal wetlands, watersheds, coastal and marine water quality, as well as equity and environmental justice. Her prior experience includes working as an Environmental Planning Analyst and a Senior GIS Analyst at environmental consulting firms in Southern and Northern California. Maria has worked on CEQA and NEPA documentation for infrastructure and environmentally-driven projects, including but not limited to habitat conservation and recreational projects. She has more than five years of experience using ArcGIS to focus on issues relating to urban planning, conservation, protection of natural resources, and environmental compliance. Maria holds a BS in Urban and Regional Planning from Cal Poly Pomona and is an active member of the American Planning Association, Association of Environmental Professionals, and Society for Conservation GIS. Maria enjoys bird watching, hiking, cycling, and spending time by the ocean. She loves LA Dodgers baseball, her two cats, and advocating for social justice.

Contact: maria.rodriguez@resources.ca.gov

Holly Shand, Administration and Finance Manager

Holly joined OPC in May 2018 and provides administration and finance management OPC. Prior to coming to OPC, Holly worked for the Marine Region of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife processing grants and contracts. Holly has additional experience with the state’s new accounting system (FI$Cal) and developing processes and procedures to increase workflow efficiency. Holly also has over a decade of analytical experience in serious injury claims and settlements. You can normally find Holly with her nose in a book. Her other interests include fishing, gardening, and baking her own bread.

Contact (916) 654-2757 or holly.shand@resources.ca.gov


Noah Ben-Aderet, Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture Program Manager

Noah joined OPC in April 2021 to lead OPC’s efforts on sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.  He is passionate about fishing, aquaculture and working with communities and stakeholders to ensure that California’s commercial and recreational fisheries remain sustainable and viable into the future.  Prior to joining OPC, Noah was an NRC postdoctoral fellow with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center studying how environmental conditions affect larval rockfish growth and recruitment in the hopes of enhancing ecosystem-based management. Noah was a 2017 Knauss-Seagrant Legislative fellow in the US Senate and earned his Ph.D. at Scripps Institution of Oceanography – UC San Diego. His dissertation research focused on better understanding the behavior and biology of yellowtail in the Southern California Bight. In his free time, he loves any and all types of fishing, surfing, diving, cooking and spending time on the water with friends and family.

Contact: noah.ben-aderet@resources.ca.gov

Ella McDougallClimate Change Program Manager

Ella joined OPC in May 2021 after completing a Sea Grant Fellowship with the Climate Ready Program at the State Coastal Conservancy. She is passionate about solving complex climate change and sea level rise problems, putting solutions on the ground, and ensuring an equitable future for all Californians. Ella is from Pennsylvania, holds a BS from the University of Delaware, and an MA from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. She is also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, having served in northern Peru from 2015-2017, where she planted thousands of trees and coached girls soccer. Find Ella in Tahoe, riding skis or bikes, while her fiancé tries to keep up.

Photo of Jennifer SavageJennifer Savage, Policy and Communications Manager

Jennifer Savage joined OPC in July 2021 and leads OPC’s policy, communications and community engagement efforts. After a decade of working as a Humboldt County reporter and radio show host, Jennifer accepted a job with Ocean Conservancy to coordinate Marine Life Protection Act implementation on the North Coast and helping craft the only unified MPA proposal in the entire process. Most recently, she spent several years working in California coast and ocean policy for the Surfrider Foundation with a particular focus on access equity and sea level rise. During this time, Jennifer’s commute included the entire California coast, an experience she continues to cherish, although her heart belongs to cold, foggy Humboldt, where she’s lived for 23 years.

Photo of Kaitlyn KaluaKaitlyn Kalua, Water Quality Program Manager

Kaitlyn joined OPC in November 2021. As Water Quality Program Manager, she is responsible for advancing OPC’s policy initiatives and programs to improve coastal and marine water quality. Kaitlyn comes to OPC with experience in water quality regulation and policy, equitable water access, coastal adaptation planning, and federal ocean policy. Prior to joining OPC, Kaitlyn served as Policy Manager for the California Coastkeeper Alliance and previously as a 2017 Knauss Sea Grant fellow with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Kaitlyn received her J.D. and Environmental Law certificate from the University of California, Davis School of Law. Kaitlyn loves exploring the mountains and coastline of California, and can often be found seeking out live music or in hiking boots with her partner and Pyrenees pup on weekends.

Sandra FoggSandra Fogg, 2021 CA State Sea Grant Fellow – Marine Protected Areas and Marine Ecosystems

Sandra Fogg joined OPC in January 2021 as a California Sea Grant Fellow in the MPA and Marine Ecosystems programs. Sandra supports multiple projects in both programs, such as MPA research and outreach, statewide biodiversity initiatives, and sustainable aquaculture and fisheries. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management with a Master of Environmental Science and Management degree in 2020. Through the development of a web-based modeling tool, Sandra’s thesis investigated the potential feasibility, productivity, and profitability of off-shore cobia aquaculture within Brazil’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Prior to her fellowship, Sandra worked in multiple fields including environmental toxicology, pollution prevention, and fisheries.  These experiences allowed Sandra to work on environmental issues on both coasts of the United States and internationally.  When she’s not working, Sandra is a self-proclaimed “Master Dabbler,” who enjoys countless activities that enable her to freely express her artistic creativity and explore the beautiful outdoors.

Kat BeheshtiKathryn Beheshti, 2021 CA State Sea Grant Fellow – Climate Change

Kat Beheshti joined the Ocean Protection Council’s Climate Change Program in February as the 2021 California SeaGrant State Fellow. Kat holds a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz where she studied the drivers of loss and recovery of salt marsh and seagrass habitats. Kat also holds a BS in Earth and Environmental Science from the University of California, Irvine where she worked closely with practitioners in San Joaquin Marsh and Newport Back Bay. As a SeaGrant Fellow, Kat will serve to uphold the Ocean Protection Councils 2020 Strategic Plan by supporting OPC’s efforts in mitigating and adapting to ocean acidification and sea-level rise through coordination with other state agencies. As an experimental field ecologist and champion for science communication and public outreach, Kat is looking forward to working at nexus of science and policy—where the action happens! Kat is an AAUS Scientific Diver and PADI DiveMaster, she is also a certified Keiser Cycle Instructor. In her free time, Kat loves to SCUBA dive, cycle, make algal pressings, and take her dog Abbott to the beach with her husband Paul.

Contact: Kathryn.Beheshti@resources.ca.gov

Chris Besenty, Information Systems Manager

Chris Besenty joined the Ocean Protection Council and State Coastal Conservancy staff in November 2007. A graduate of Sonoma State University’s Department of Environmental Studies and Planning (1996), Chris began his career with the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission as a volunteer coastal planning intern in 1995, working on the North Bay Wetlands Protection Program, and in 1998 was appointed the Commission’s Chief Information Officer. His interdisciplinary focus lies in exploring ways to economically integrate information technology practices with coastal resource management, including the use of spatial data to inform coastal planning goals and objectives, and the use of the Internet as a publishing medium. His experience with information technology began in 1990 with a Compuserve account, a friend’s TI PPC, and a beta copy of DR DOS. His personal interests include biking, hiking and camping on the beaches, deserts and forests of the western U.S. and strumming the guitar for fun and profit.

Contact: Chris.Besenty@resources.ca.gov