Walter Heady

Ecologist
Freshwater/Stewardship
[email protected]

Walter is a Senior scientist in The Nature Conservancy’s California Chapter, providing science to the Stewardship Program, the Disaster Resilience Team, and the Jack and Laura DangermondPreserve. His work synthesizes our understanding of the ecological function and benefits to humans of nearshore marine and coastal systems in order to improve the quantity and quality of these often imperiled ecosystems. He collaborates with external partners to aggregate best science, develop novel approaches, and communicate findings to inform the conservation and recovery of imperiled species and ecosystems and better management of these resources. Walter is engaged in efforts to protect and restore kelp, promote adaptation in coastal habitats and communities in the face of sea level rise, and protect California’s coastal biodiversity.

Walter earned his Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

What Walter is working on now:

Currently, he is leading efforts towards the recovery of the Critically Endangeredsunflower sea star by developing a Roadmap to Recovery, collaborating on the 1stever captive rearing program, and exploring the ecological role of sunflower sea stars in maintaining kelp forests. Walter supports kelp conservation on projects including bull kelp genetics and spore banking, green gravel restoration, and urchin trapping. He also works to maintain coastal habitats in the face of sea levelrise, including demonstration projects with the US Department of Defense and Caltrans.


Select products

2021 | Marine | Science | Publications & Reports

Disease-driven mass mortality event leads to widespread extirpation and variable recovery potential of a marine predator across the eastern Pacific

S. L. Hamilton, V. R. Saccomanno, W. N. Heady, A. L. Gehman, S. I. Lonhart, R. Beas-Luna, F. T. Francis, L. Lee, L. Rogers-Bennett, A. K. Salomon and S. A. Gravem

The sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) is an important mesopredator in kelp forest ecosystems that was devastated by the outbreak of sea star wasting disease (SSWD). This study quantifies how SSWD impacted this iconic animal across its range and documents that the outbreak occurred more…


2021 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Marine | Planning | Science | Video

StoryMap: Restoring coastal wetlands for climate resilience: A case study at Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu

Charlotte Stanley, Alyssa Mann, Walter Heady

The United States operates thousands of military installations in the U.S. and worldwide, worth about $1.2 trillion. These facilities are where personnel train and test weaponry, with the specific aim of ensuring the nation’s security. With climate change, coastal installations are now being impacted by rising sea levels, erosion and…


2021 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Marine | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Restoring coastal wetlands for climate resilience: A case study at Naval Base Ventura County, Pt. Mugu

Walter Heady, Alyssa Mann, Stacey Solie, Bob Battalio, James Jackson, Kendall Lousen, and Bob Barnes

The U.S. Congress and the Department of Defense (DoD) have determined that climate change is a threat to national security and have required military installations to develop plans to improve the climate resilience of both military installations and key supporting civilian infrastructure. This report, co-authored…


2021 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Marine | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Coastal Adaptation with the U.S. Navy at Point Mugu

Alyssa Mann, Walter Heady, Charlotte Stanley

TNC and the United States Navy partnered together to prepare for the impacts of climate change on Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC), Point Mugu in California. NBVC is a critical and strategic asset of the U.S. Navy. It is also home to Mugu Lagoon, the…



2021 | Marine | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

A Structured Approach for Kelp Restoration and Management Decisions

Mary G. Gleason, Jennifer E. Caselle, Walter N. Heady, Vienna R. Saccomanno, Julie Zimmerman, Tristin Anoush McHugh, Norah Eddy

Global kelp forests are biodiverse and productive nearshore ecosystems that provide a wide range of ecosystem services, but they are at risk from both local stressors and global drivers of kelp loss. A structured decision making (SDM) framework can help guide kelp management and restoration…



2020 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Marine | Planning | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve Integrated Resources Management Plan

Butterfield, H.S., M. Reynolds , M.G. Gleason, M. Merrifield, B.S. Cohen, W.N. Heady, D. Cameron, T. Rick, E. Inlander, M. Katkowski, L. Riege, J. Knapp, S. Gennet, G. Gorga, K. Lin, K. Easterday, B. Leahy, M. Bell

This Plan frames the biological and cultural significance and provides the short- and long-term goals, objectives, and priority actions for the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve.


2019 | Freshwater | Marine | Planning | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Insights into estuary habitat loss in the western United States using a new method for mapping maximum extent of tidal wetlands

Laura S. Brophy, Correigh M. Greene, Van C. Hare, Brett Holycross, Andy Lanier, Walter N. Heady, Kevin O’Connor, Hiroo Imaki, Tanya Haddad, Randy Dana

The authors of this study generated new maps of current and historical tidal wetlands in 450 estuaries throughout Washington, Oregon, and California. Using laser-mapping technology known as LIDAR combined with water elevation models, the team estimated that West Coast estuaries historically covered nearly 2 million acres.…


2018 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Marine | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Conserving California's Coastal Habitats: A Legacy and a Future with Sea Level Rise

Walter N. Heady, Brian S. Cohen, Mary G. Gleason, Joshua N. Morris, Sarah G. Newkirk, Kirk R. Klausmeyer, Hilary R. Walecka, Elizabeth Gagneron

Sea level rise presents a new challenge to coastal conservation. The authors quantified and mapped the vulnerability of habitats, imperiled species, and conservation lands to sea level rise throughout the entire California coast, where high biodiversity, high endemism, and 26.5 million people coincide. Combining habitat…




2016 | Marine | Publications & Reports

Marine and Coastal Impacts of Ocean Desalination in California

Szeptycki, L., E. Hartge, N. Ajami, A. Erickson, W. N. Heady, L. LaFeir, B. Meister, L. Verdone, J.R. Koseff

The drought in California rekindled interest in ocean desalination as a new and reliable water supply option; yet desalination is expensive, energy intensive, potentially emits greenhouse gases, and has adverse impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems. This report is a synthesis of an Uncommon…


2015 | Freshwater | Marine | Publications & Reports

Assessing California’s bar-built estuaries using the California Rapid Assessment Method

Walter Heady, Ross P. Clark, Kevin O’Connor, Cara Clark, Charles Endris, Sierra Ryan, Sara Stoner-Duncan

Connecting marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems, bar-built estuaries are complex and dynamic coastal confluences that provide a great diversity of habitat and ecosystem services. The wetland habitats of bar-built estuaries are threatened by development, pollution, and climate related changes including diminished streamflows and sea…


2014 | Freshwater | Marine | Planning | Publications & Reports

An Inventory and Classification of U.S. West Coast Estuaries

Walter N. Heady, Kevin O'Connor, Jennifer Kassakian , Kate Doiron, Charles Endris, Daniel Hudgens, Ross P. Clark , Jena Carter , Mary G. Gleason

Estuaries are some of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. This inventory classifies more than 600 coastal confluences on the West Coast of the United States. Each estuary was classified using the federal Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS). A spatial database of…


2014 | Freshwater | Marine | Science | Publications & Reports

Nursery Functions of U.S. West Coast Estuaries: The State of Knowledge for Juveniles of Focal Invertebrate and Fish Species

Brent B. Hughes, Matthew D. Levey, Jennifer A. Brown, Monique C. Fountain, Aaron B. Carlisle, Steven Y. Litvin, Correigh M. Greene, Walter N. Heady, Mary G. Gleason

Estuaries support significant biodiversity and important ecosystem functions such as providing rearing habitat for juvenile fish and invertebrates. This report synthesizes the scientific literature and geospatial data on the nursery requirements of fifteen species of commercial, cultural, and conservation concern and highlights the potential nursery role…