Skip to content (press enter)


Protecting and preserving nature’s systems

Mike A. McCoy’s passion for achieving a better understanding of the interrelationship of ecological systems has evolved over the decades. “It wasn’t much understood in the ’60s,” he says.
As a member of the stakeholders group setting up the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative for the California Department of Fish and Game, Mike travels the Southern California coast intent on preserving marine and estuarine systems.
“We have to understand and revamp the way we think. We have to look at any system like a microcosm — look locally and think globally,” Mike says.
Mike’s work started more than 40 years ago. A proposed marina created by dredging the Tijuana Estuary caught Mike’s interest in 1970. He recognized the importance of preserving it and its wildlife as one of the last intact salt marsh ecosystems in Southern California.
“If we fragment ecological systems, remove corridors and connections, we’ll slowly destroy their complexity and vibrancy,” he notes.
But about one-third of the community wanted to protect the estuary and two-thirds wanted a marina, he recalls. The creation of a marina meant money for the local tax base.
“The importance of 1.8 million people living in proximity to the estuary was an educational opportunity for so many to learn about the critical role these systems play in their daily lives,” Mike states. “Estuaries are the nurseries of the sea.”
In spearheading the 10-year effort to save the estuary, Mike challenged numerous cities and the San Diego County Comprehensive Planning Organization, including area mayors.
“The road was not easy and was paved with stress and violence along the way,” he remembers. “Death threats, bullets and loosening of lug nuts on our wheels happened during this time.”
With congressional support and that of the Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association (SWIA), of which Mike was one of the founding members and now serves as president, the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge was acquired in 1980. The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve was established in 1982. By 2005 the Tijuana Estuary, the most southwesterly coastal wetland in the U.S., was dedicated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.
“Mike is one of those most responsible for bridging the political gap and keeping this estuary from development, which in turn allowed for a two-country stewardship for the benefit of this wetland of international importance,” says Bob Miller, SWIA vice president.
— Marty Coffin Evans