Todos Santos 1994

dedina:young BajaHere is a photo of me and my wife Emily  on Palm Beach in Todos Santos sometime in November 1994 with our dogs Julius and little Tecate (who was a “street dog” who came with the house we cared for). We  spent the previous year living in Laguna San Ignacio and Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos carrying out field research for our University of Texas at Austin doctoral dissertations in Geography on gray whale conservation (me) and the cultural ecology of fishing and eco-tourism (Emily).

Our stays in those amazingly hospitable and wonderful communities were followed by a month in La Paz to do interviews and carry out archival research and then another month in Mexico City to do the same.

After a great year in Mexico, we faced the prospect of returning to Austin to write up our research and work as teaching assistants (Emily) which is what smart grad students do (it is best to be near your committee members and advisor). Thanks to a series of encounters in Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos with Kimberly and Ken who introduced us to Lee Moore, who then set us up with Roswitha Mueller (who owned a stunning 19th century home on the Plaza in Todos Santos) we ended up living in that emerging art colony and now-hipster village in southern Baja for a year.

For two literally penniless grad students it was a dream come true. The house overlooked the Palm-fringed coastline of Todos Santos. I dawn-patrolled each morning and after a long surf returned to the house where Emily and I shared breakfast and then sat down to the task of writing dissertations. After a long day of writing, we would retreat to Palm Beach for a walk with the dogs and to play in the waves.

I unwisely decided to write my dissertation as a book, which wasn’t a very strategic way of getting my committee to approve it (I later had to substantially modify the manuscript to make it more academic–which I should have done in the first place). My original manuscript later became my book, Saving the Gray Whale.

In retrospect making the decision to stay in Todos Santos was the smartest thing we have ever done. That year launched our careers in international conservation. After having discovered that ESSA (and its 49% partner) Mitsubishi planned to turn Laguna San Ignacio, a gray whale lagoon and Mexican federal protected area, into a 500,000-acre industrial salt harvesting facility, we joined up with Homero Aridjis and Betty Ferber of the Grupo de los Cien, to help launch a campaign against the project.

That initial effort turned into one of the largest ever international efforts to save a wild place that ended successfully when Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo cancelled the project in March, 2000.

Other things we did that year included convincing the School for Field Studies to open a study center in Bahia Magdalena and working to advise RARE on the launch of a very successful and ground-breaking eco-guide training program for whale guides in Bahia Magdalena and Laguna San Ignacio.

The most important part of the year is that Emily became pregnant with our oldest son Israel, and then got a job teaching geography at the University of Arizona. Despite my misgivings about living in Tucson (for a surfer, exile to the desert in Arizona is a slow death), in the end, I could never have launched my career in conservation without having lived there.

After completing my Ph.D. a year after we moved to Tuscon, The Nature Conservancy hired me to launch their Northwest Mexico Program. That profoundly gratifying, rewarding and educational experience  was the equivalent of attending Harvard Business School–but for Conservation. I was damn lucky to have worked there.

While at TNC, I helped to launch their still vibrant Baja California and Sea of Cortez Program and helped to launch successful initatives to preserve Loreto Bay National Park, Isla Espiritu Santo and Cabo Pulmo.

So that moment on the beach really was just before we became adults and understood that chasing dreams requires sacrifice, hard work, discipline, vision, and passion. We chose to do what was right for us, rather than please everyone else.  I also realized that if you want to get anything done, you can’t depend on anyone else to make it happen.

I will never forget our year in Todos Santos and how it changed our lives forever.

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The Best Places to Explore in Baja in 2013

Daniel gets a fun one--the light was perfect in the afternoon for photos.

San Miguel in Ensenada.

For years many Southern California surfers and ocean lovers have lived for Baja. Upon crossing the border they experienced endless empty beaches, great fishing, friendly people and perfect waves.

Then when things got a little rough in Mexico a few years ago, due to the drug war, many Baja California lovers bid adios to their old friend.

But an interesting thing happened during the years that American tourists abandoned Lower California. Rather than sit idly by waiting for tourists to show up, the peninsula’s new generation of entrepreneurs reinvented Baja. They developed a new cuisine, built beautiful new eco-resorts and boutique hotels, and produced fine wines.

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The peninsula got a lot safer as well. Highways have been improved. The increased presence of the police and the military has made travel safer.

Over the holidays my sons and I spent a few mornings and afternoons south of the the border carrying out surgical surf strikes during the recent magical run of winter swells. We scored big and never had a single problem. Lots of smiles, great food, and cool, clean, empty waves.

So here are a few of the hottest spots to sample in our sun-kissed neighbor to the south.

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Northern Baja Cuisine and Wine County: Start off with a late lunch at Javier Plascencia’s gastronomic palace in Tijuana, Mision 19. Then head south and stop for a quick sunset surf before you check into one of the boutique hotels in the Valle de Guadalupe such as the Grupo Habita eco-bungalows or Adobe Guadalupe. For dinner check out the amazingly tasty Corazon de Tierra. The next day, after sampling waves at San Miguel or 3M’s, catch a late breakfast or  lunch at either Boules or Muelle 3. After a second surf session check out the wine, cocktails and dinner at the award winning Manzanilla.

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Whale Watching in San Ignacio Lagoon: The world’s best whale-watching awaits you in this stark and pristine desert lagoon fringed by mangroves, bobcats and coyotes. Filled with more than 200 gray whales during the height of the whale season in February and early March, this is the best place in the world to encounter a friendly whale.

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Whales, Islands and Missions in Loreto and Magdalena Bay: Catch a short flight to the beautiful mission town of Loreto to catch up with old Baja. Tour the amazing azure islands of Loreto Bay National Park, be inspired by the grandeur of Mision San Javier, and take a day trip to Magdalena Bay’s Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos for a day of whale watching and wandering the dunes of the barrier islands.

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East Cape: Fill up on organic goodies and beautiful arts and crafts at the San Jose del Cabo Organic Market and then head out east and discover miles of empty white-sand beaches. Explore the coral reef and schools of fish at Cabo Pulmo National Park, one of North America’s best dive spots. If you’re lucky you’ll catch an early season south swell, but during the winter the East Cape is tranquility and heaven. Be sure to catch the sunset over cocktails and dinner at the iconic Crossroads Country Club at Vinorama, where a boutique hotel will open soon.

Whale shark.  Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins.

Whale shark on the East Cape. Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins.

Todos Santos: Officially the hottest, hippest, and coolest little resort town in Baja. Todos Santos is an old school Baja town remade as a trendy little village with great hotels, excellent food and a laid back vibe. My wife Emily and I spent one of the best years of our life living in Todos Santos back in the mid 1990s, so I love to visit and hang out with friends, surf pristine warm-water waves and eat tasty, healthy food.

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So what are you waiting for? Baja is better than ever. Explore it now while the going is good!

WiLDCOAST ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN 2012

wildcoast accomplishments 2012

2012 was a great year for WiLDCOAST, the international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems that I run. With offices in Imperial Beach, Ensenada, Los Cabos and Oaxaca, our  fast-moving and strategic coastal conservation team made a big difference this year in protecting some of the most iconic and biologically significant coastal and marine sites along the Pacific coast of North America. Since 2000, WiLDCOAST has helped to preserve more than 3.2 million acres of coastal and marine ecosystems including 340 miles of beaches in Mexico protected through conservation concessions and acquisitions.

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Some of our accomplishments in 2012 included the following:

  • Preserved 2,970 acres of 9.3 miles of Baja California pristine coastline through private acquisitions.
  • Challenged the abysmal response of PEMEX to respond to and clean up an oil spill in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, that impacted more than 120 miles of beaches including the world-class right point breaks of southern Oaxaca and some of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beaches.
  • Pushed the Mexican Attorney General to file legal claims again PEMEX for impacts to coastal ecosystems and wildlife from the oil spill.
  • Helped to manage and conserve more than 15,000 acres of marine ecosystems protected as MPAs in San Diego County.
  • Worked with 3,050 volunteers to clean up 154,546 lbs of ocean-bound trash in the U.S. and Mexico.
  • Protected sea turtle nesting beaches in southern Mexico where more than 20 million sea turtles hatched and 650,000 sea turtles laid eggs.
  • Reached more than 430 million people wiht 928 media pieces through campaigns.
  • Successfully convinced Mexican President Felipe Calderon to halt the proposed Cabo Cortes mega-project on Baja’s East Cape that would have built a new city larger than Cancun next to Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, the world’s most robust marine reserve.
  • Carried out 228 public outreach events attended by more than 16,000 people.
  • Worked with community residents  in Los Cabos, Magdalena Bay and Ensenada to create vibrant coast and ocean conservation art murals.
  • Established a new conservation network in Mexico, Red Costasalvaje to help bring together and train community leaders and residents to carry out coastal protection efforts on their own.
  • Supported the ongoing management of three WiLDCOAST chapters in Baja California Surf, Mexico.
  • Worked with PBS to produce an episode of the series, Saving the Ocean, on sustainable fishing and whale watching in Punta Abreojos and San Ignacio Lagoon, Mexico.
  • Received the NBC-Universal 21st Century Solutions Award for our efforts to restore and preserve the Tijuana Estuary and Tijuana River Mouth MPA.pulmo1

Thanks to all of our donors, members, staff and partners  2012 was  a groundbreaking year for conservation and WiLDCOAST. We look forward to working with all of you and all of our amazing network of coastal conservation leaders in the U.S. and Mexico to continue preserving our coastal and marine heritage.

Fish populations returned more than 460% in the Cabo Pulmo MPA in Mexico.

Fish populations returned more than 460% in the Cabo Pulmo MPA in Mexico.

The Best of Wild Baja

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From my Southwest Surf Patch.com column of October 26, 2011.

You don’t have to travel too far to experience the best coastal wilderness on the planet. There is no other place on Earth that provides the outdoor experience and friendly fishing folk in one location as the Baja California peninsula.

If you crave travel plans that bring you in contact with pristine waves, friendly whales and untrammeled wilderness, then pack up your gear and head south.

Whether you fly or drive, fish, surf or dive, the fact is that the real Baja is not found in the large tourist resorts but in the quiet and more remote fishing villages and mission towns far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern resorts such as Cabo San Lucas.

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Here are some areas in which it is possible to experience the best of wild Baja. These are all family friendly locations that provide either camping or small-scale hotel and eco-lodges to get you close to the water and wildlife.

San Ignacio Lagoon: This sheltered mangrove lagoon about 35 miles west of the mission village of San Ignacio is one of the world’s top destinations for whalewatching. Between late January and mid-April, hundreds of gray whales assemble in the shallow waters of this desert lagoon to give birth, mate and escape the cold water of the north Pacific. Numerous San Diego and locally based outfitters provide eco-camps and whalewatching services such as Kuyima, Pachico’s Eco-Tours, Baja Discovery, Baja Expeditions, and Baja Eco-Tours.6604819cee43ce4cc0a751ed8005c9cd

View of the bay with Isla Angel de la Guarda o...

Image via Wikipedia

Bahia de los Angeles:  Located about ten hours south of San Diego, this small fishing settlement on the shore of the Sea of Cortez is a haven for sportfishing, diving and wildlife watching. During the fall there are opportunities to observe whale sharks (with a certified outfitter). The numerous islands just offshore are filled with seabirds and excellent diving and snorkeling. There are a plethora of small eco-camps and a few hotels. If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of a sea turtle, fin whale, or a sea lion or all three.

Loreto: This lovely and quiet mission town in Baja California Sur on the Sea of Cortez is the gateway to exploring white sand beaches, pristine islands, the jagged peaks of the Sierra de la Giganta and hidden missions. Loreto is also one of the best places for sportfishing and diving in Baja. To the north is Bahia Concepcion that provides more undeveloped beach camping and to the south are the dramatic peaks and beaches of Agua Verde.

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Magdalena Bay: This huge mangrove fringed series of bays is a maze of hidden waterways, sand dunes and mysterious islands that extends for more than 100 miles along Baja California Sur’s Pacific coastline. During February and March, gray whales are found near the fishing villages of Puerto San Carlos and Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos that also provide small-scale accommodations and basic restaurants. Sportfishermen have long been attracted to the area and birders are also discovering the wildlife of this long forgotten region.

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Cabo Pulmo: This tiny village of about 60 people borders the northernmost coral reef in North America. Cabo Pulmo National Park was recently listed by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography study as one of the world’s most robust marine conservation areas. A dec

ade ago, local community members, conservationists and the Mexican government joined forces here to ban sport and commercial fishing within the national park and fish and ocean wildlife have rebounced. Cabo Pulmo is now one of the best dive spots in Mexico and is a haven for whales, sea turtles and giant schools of fish and even sharks. Small-scale accommodations abound here and there are numerous sportfishing resorts located to the north. Unfortunately there are plans to build a new Cancun-style resort here so don’t delay visiting this world-class nature reserve.

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 (http://www.sccoos.org/data/tracking/IB/) 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.

Saving Gray Whales in Baja’s San Ignacio Lagoon

Wildcoast

Image via Wikipedia

grey whales in san ignacio lagoon - baja calif...

Image by m_uhlig via Flickr

Just heard that Mexico‘s Protected Area Commission (CONANP) announced the conservation of 299,000 acres north of San Ignacio Lagoon. This was gray whale habitat once under the ax by the Mitsubishi Corporation and destined to be one of the world’s largest industrial salt facilities.

Thanks to my colleagues at WiLDCOAST we were able to support this effort and other efforts to conserve one of the world’s most amazing coastal ecosystems.

Felicidades to all!!

It is not often you get great news about good things happening to save the planet!

Gray whale - Eschrichtius robustus - at Scammo...

Image via Wikipedia

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