Mark Gold, president of Santa Monica's Heal the Bay, tells reporters on Wednesday that Santa Monica Bay is home to some of the dirtiest beaches in the state. While warm weather conditions have improved, other areas, including water around the Santa Monica Pier, still pose dangers to swimmers.

SANTA MONICA PIER — Mark Gold announced Tuesday that he is stepping down as executive director of Santa Monica-based environmental advocacy group Heal The Bay to begin a new position at the UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability.

Gold will serve as the associate director and provide leadership at the institute’s Coastal Center. Gold begins at UCLA on Jan. 30, and his last day at Heal the Bay is Jan. 27.

“UCLA has always been such an important part of my life, and to help build the institute into a world class institution was something that seemed exciting to me, a new set of challenges,” Gold said.

He will continue teaching classes at the university, and also delve into research relating to water quality and the impacts of human development on the coast, as well as rustling up resources to build the institute.

Gold started with Heal the Bay while the organization was still in its infancy. Hired as a staff scientist in 1988, Gold was Heal the Bay’s first employee. By 1994 he ascended to executive director, and then president in 2006.

During his tenure, Gold saw the health of the bay and water quality in Southern California improve as a result of Heal the Bay’s advocacy.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the bay had dead zones, fish with tumors and fin rot and sewer spills that resulted from inadequate infrastructure.

Those problems have been solved, and the bay also has protected areas that didn’t exist before and beaches receiving passing grades on their regular health report cards.

“After being here for so long, and after being lucky enough to work with Heal the Bay and achieve a lot of amazing things for the environment, it’s time to find new challenges,” Gold said.

Gold will continue with Heal the Bay in what he describes as an “advisory” position. He will hold a position on the board of directors, primarily for his strategic planning and historical perspective.

Karin Hall and Alix Hobbs, now executive director and associate director, will provide day-to-day management, organizational and fiscal oversight for the group.

The board of directors will be meeting to determine a management structure for Heal the Bay following Gold’s departure.

Heal the Bay may be losing its executive director, but it will not be losing its focus on environmental issues.

The organization plans to work on creating marine protected areas on the Southern California coast, end single-use plastic bags statewide, push environmental literacy materials in schools and advocate for a countywide stormwater permit to reduce polluted runoff.

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