The Cambrian

UC Santa Barbara marine ecologist dies off the Cambria coast

Don Canestro with daughters Carla, 13, and Stella, 11, and their pet goats in 2016, outside the barn near their home on the UCSB Norris Rancho Marino Reserve in Cambria.
Don Canestro with daughters Carla, 13, and Stella, 11, and their pet goats in 2016, outside the barn near their home on the UCSB Norris Rancho Marino Reserve in Cambria.

Don Canestro, 64, died Friday, Nov. 9, shortly after he’d been diving off UC Santa Barbara Kenneth S. Norris Rancho Marino Reserve in Cambria. Canestro — an expert diver and former master diving instructor at UC Santa Cruz — had been resident manager for nearly two decades of the approximately 500 acres of the forested oceanfront preserve that hugs Cambria’s southwestern boundary — one of seven protected properties managed by UCSB for the University of California Natural Reserve System (NRS).

A marine ecologist, Canestro was a fervent defender of the environment.

“My favorite part of this job is sharing information about the reserve with researchers and students, as well as learning from them more about the reserve’s ecosystems and organisms,” said Canestro, a native Californian who studied at UC Berkeley and has worked for both UCSB and UC Santa Cruz in a 2016 profile in the UCSB publication The Current. “Then there is the fact that I have to live on a 600-acre ranch with two miles of coastline and 225 acres of Monterey Pines...

“I knew early on that I didn’t want to be inside all day. Things fall into place. That’s life’s ride.”

Although he rarely participated in local politics, one of his last public statements was at the Oct. 25 meeting of the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors, where he spoke out against a plan to put an emergency-access road from the former Cambria Air Force Base property to the town’s Top of the World neighborhood.

The news spread quickly through the North Coast and the scientific communities across the state, and those who knew Canestro, knew of him or had worked with him shared their shock and condolences online.

Margaret “P.J.” Webb, a Cambria attorney who is chairwoman of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, said in an email that Canestro was “definitely larger than life.” She said he “took up (the cause of) land stewardship with a vengeance.”

On the reserve and elsewhere, Canestro taught “anyone who would listen … showing us so much about the forest, intertidal, coast plants and animals. I loved his presentations at conferences,” she said. “He had a sense of humor and humility that proved to be forever entertaining and enlightening.”

Among Canestro’s survivors are wife Miranda and daughters Stella and Carla. Plans for a memorial are pending.

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