By Kinsee Morlan / Photo by Paul Body
In early May, Serge Dedina attended the Global Wave Conference in Rosarito, Mexico, with other movers and shakers in the environmentalist world. The nonprofit he founded, WiLDCOAST, is one of several organizations working to get the word out about the wellknown surf spot, Bahia Todos Santos (Bay of all Saints), in Ensenada, Mexico, which has been officially recognized as a World Surfing Reserve - one of just six sites worldwide to achieve the status, putting it on the global as a surf break worthy of preservation and protection.
"The conference was really about sharing the various tools people are using to save waves," Dedina says, now back on this side of the border and ready to take on his next big battle.
Dedina's been surfing since the late-'70s, when he was 13, but his first taste of environmentalism came a few years before that. He was just 7 when he sent a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, railing against proposed plans to develop a marina in the Tijuana Estuary, located in his hometown of Imperial Beach.
"I was 15 or 16 by the time we won that one," Dedina says. "That was my whole childhood, really - organizing cleanups and protests, and sitting in front of bulldozers in order to save the estuary."
Since that victory, Dedina has been able to add the conservation of thousands of acres of sensitive coastal sites to his list of successes. He helped lead the charge against the Mitsubishi Corporation's plans to build a salt- harvesting plant in the San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California, which would have destroyed a gray-whale birthing lagoon. He was one of the loudest voices demanding the upgrade of the International Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Ysidro, which treats sewage flows that exceed the capacity of the existing Tijuana sewage treatment system and used to spill into the Pacific Ocean. And he's been able to mobilize and inspire thousands of people over the years to get their hands dirty by doing simple tasks like heading out to the beach for cleanups.
Dedina's tactics are truly grassroots and hands-on. Rather than tackling big issues at the legislative level, he and his team of 17, who work out of offices in Imperial Beach and Ensenada, prefer engaging beachside communities and underserved groups that other environmentalists tend to ignore. Whether his team is working alongside indigenous tribes in Oaxaca, Mexico, or military families in Imperial Beach, Dedina says the secret to his success is finding allies who live in the areas most affected, and then transforming those allies into environmental stewards who take on the local issues with more passion and fervor than he ever could.
"The hallmark of our work is that we don't believe people are the enemy," he says. "We believe that people are the solution."
Another result-producing approach to coastal conservation, says Dedina, has been having a sense of humor. The official WiLDCOAST spokesperson is none other than El Hijo Del Santo, a famous Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling star who has a soft spot in his heart for sea turtles and whales. Dedina says the masked man, who will be making an appearance June 15 at the annual WiLDCOAST Baja Bash fundraiser event, has attracted a diverse group to his coastal conservation cause.
Ask Dedina why he continues to take on bigger and more challenging environmental issues, and he'll laugh as he tells you, deep down, he's an environmental activist out of selfishness.
"The fact is, I want to surf with my friends and my kids," he says. "If the water is polluted, I can't surf. So, the bottom line is that I do it so I can enjoy the ocean."