A marine biologist who studied Monterey Bay’s tide pools and discovered some of the first evidence of warming ocean temperatures died on Thursday, May 28. Raphael (Rafe) Sagarin, 43, lost his life when a pickup truck struck him as he rode his bicycle in Tucson, Ariz. According to news reports, Sagarin was wearing a helmet and the motorist, Gary Colvin, was allegedly impaired. Colvin was arrested on manslaughter charges.
Sagarin studied Monterey Bay’s intertidal zone at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove as an undergraduate and a doctoral student. A 1993 research study Sagarin conducted with classmate Sarah Gilman, when both were undergraduates at Stanford University, was the first to reveal the effects of climate change on the intertidal ecosystem.
The Weekly published a cover story about the study in 1993, and the study’s findings were published in Science in 1995, bringing Sagarin extraordinary early-career recognition.
“Rafe impressed one as someone special,” says retired Hopkins professor Chuck Baxter, who became Sagarin’s lifelong mentor and friend. “He has an incredible level of enthusiasm and motivation and commitment, and he was always the adventurer.”
Pacific Grove’s tide pools served as Sagarin’s office, laboratory and salon when he returned to Hopkins to continue his research while earning a doctorate degree from UC Santa Barbara. One of his proudest moments at Hopkins was leading President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore on a tour of the tide pools in 1998.
Sagarin’s other office was the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). He often traveled there for research, like his hero, Doc Ricketts, once did. In 2004, Sagarin accompanied Baxter and other Monterey Bay researchers on a recreation of Ricketts and John Steinbeck’s 1940 journey to the gulf, chronicled in Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez.
Sagarin’s work in the Monterey Bay spawned a dynamic and diverse career. He served as an advisor to U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Los Angeles) 2002-2003 and led the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University 2003-2006. He trained military personnel, corporations and emergency response organizations on nature’s strategies of adaptability and survival. At the time of his death, Sagarin was creating a replica of the Gulf of California at the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2 near Tucson, a project he initiated and designed as an educational tool and a research lab.
Sagarin was born and raised in Connecticut and spent his summers in Cape Cod, where he developed his affinity for marine life. “It was also here where he recognized the critical and essential need to protect our oceans and the earth more broadly,” his brother Mark Sagarin wrote in an email.
Family and friends describe Sagarin as a deeply caring, engaged husband and a father, brother, in-law, uncle, friend, teacher and community member. He married Rebecca Masten Crocker in Monterey on New Year’s Eve 1999. Crocker, a doctoral student at the University of Arizona, was a staff writer for the Weekly 1999-2001. They have two daughters: Ella, 14, and Rosa, 12.
Sagarin is survived by his wife and daughters of Tucson; parents Mary and Jacob Daniel Sagarin of Guilford, Conn.; brothers Mark Sagarin of New Plymouth, New Zealand and Joshua Sagarin of Atlanta, Ga., and their families; and parents-in-law Saone and Chester Crocker of Washington D.C. and their family. Plans for a memorial service had not yet been announced.