Interview With Sign-on-Diego

This interview was with Mike Lee, the main environmental reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Serge Dedina being interviewed by CNN-Mexico.

Few conservationists along San Diego County’s coastline cast a shadow longer than Serge Dedina, who grew up in Imperial Beach and runs the advocacy group Wildcoast out of his hometown.

Wildcoast’s activism spans both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Despite his efforts at preservation, Dedina said he has to travel some 200 miles down Baja California to reach what he considers the last remaining wild Pacific coastline.

In his new book, “Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias,” Dedina intertwines two of his favorite topics. Published by The University of Arizona Press, “Wild Sea” is due in February.

Q: What inspired you to write a book and why did you choose the subject you did?

A: It was important to document how we were able to conserve some of the most magical coastal places of the coast of California and Baja California. It was also important to report on how close we have come to losing some of these places.

Q: What are the most surprising things you learned about yourself and/or the environment as you wrote?

A: I learned that having a sense of humor and a sense of creative passion are key elements to helping conserve our coastline. I also learned that there are key places on our coast that define our coastal culture, our lives and our history, such as Rincon, Malibu, Trestles, Swami’s, Black’s, the Tijuana Sloughs, Punta Abreojos, Scorpion Bay and the East Cape.

These special places and our collective coastline must be restored and conserved — forever.

Q: The book has an intriguing subtitle. Do you see eco-wars and surf stories as separate elements or closely related?

A: If you look closely at the history and politics of conserving coastal California and Baja California you see the intersection of surfers, environmentalists, fishermen and everyday coastal residents attempting to hold on the last natural vestiges of our iconic coastline.

Whether it was efforts to save Trestles from a toll road, stop a breakwater in Imperial Beach, develop marine protected areas, or halt half-baked marina schemes in Baja California, passionate surfers who care about the coast and ocean have been front and center in some pretty intense environmental conflicts.

Many of our most important and heroic surf stories are the ones in which we conserved our coastline.

Q: Wildcoast has run some significant campaigns in the past few years. Do you see the organization staying the course or branching into new areas?

A: So far we’ve helped to conserve about 1.8 million acres of coastline, but we have a lot of work to do.

Our staff in San Diego and Baja are ramping up our current efforts to help local communities and Mexican federal agencies conserve areas like San Ignacio Lagoon, the Vizcaino Peninsula, Sea of Cortez Islands, Magdalena Bay, Cabo Pulmo, and Baja’s Central Pacific Coast. We also are working collaboratively to restore and conserve south San Diego Bay, the Otay River Valley, and the Tijuana River Valley.

Q: Non-surfers have a hard time understanding why you and others regularly risk catching waterborne illness to catch a wave in IB. How do you explain it?

A: The irony of Imperial Beach being subject to a lot of beach closures is that there is probably no other location in California that is as heavily tested, researched and then proactively managed to protect public health and safety. With the plume tracker tool ( developed by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, combined with the collaboration on water quality monitoring between the County of San Diego, City of Imperial Beach, and Wildcoast, we are doing a pretty good job of alerting people about pollution events.

Bottom line, I don’t surf IB when there is a hint of pollution in the ocean. That is why I often load up my two teenage sons and their friends in the car and we’ll surf spots like Windansea, Blacks’s, La Jolla Shores, and Trestles or travel to Baja.

Q: What’s your take on the level of environmental engagement by the general public in San Diego County?

A: They love their natural spaces. And when I see the tens of thousands of people from all walks of life that come out to Coastal Cleanup Day and other stewardship events throughout the year, I am always really inspired.

When it counts, such as the efforts to “Save Trestles”, we can depend on an army of passionate and dedicated coastal heroes to defend our natural heritage.

Surfrider's Matt McClain and pro surfer and Surfrider activist Pat O'Connell at a Save Trestles public hearing in San Clemente.

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