Mike and Patricia McCoy

A Matter of Life and Death

Recorded: July 29, 2012

This is a story of two individuals, Mike and Patricia McCoy, who were undeterred by threats to their life, as a result of their successful campaign to protect their beloved local estuary from development. Their story is a wonderful example of how their love of a special place can inspire courage and change one's life for the better. Both Mike and Patricia are also interviewed separately, so please take a look at the separate interviews as well.

Patricia McCoy
Patricia McCoy was born in London during WWII, and her family moved to countryside, fleeing the bombing that threatened their lives. Ms. McCoy became a teacher and was in the nation of Colombia to teach English when she decided to learn more about the world. The country’s deep poverty was shocking to her, but she was in awe of the lush, rich ecology shaping the life of the Colombians she knew. She began to appreciate the connections between people’s quality of life and the health of the planet.

When she came to America and married Mike McCoy, Patricia McCoy brought her experiences in South America to the struggles for the Tijuana River Estuary and wetlands preserve. She became a city councilperson in Imperial Beach and helped to establish the preserve and the visitor’s center, where she is a frequent speaker. Brought up frugally during a major war on English soil, she and her husband embraced a desire to live a simple life that mirrors their environmental efforts. They live within a small carbon footprint and grow much of their own food.

Mike McCoy
Growing up in Boulder, Colorado where his father was a city councilman, Mike McCoy got an ideal start on a life compatible with the natural world around him. His studies led him to a degree in veterinary medicine. He worked with bighorn sheep in Anza Borrego for to the San Diego Zoological Society and later on the Society’s California condor recovery program. As fine as this zoo was, he soon realized that it was not focused on educating people about the area’s rich variety of endemic animals. Dr. McCoy preferred to protect the habitat of wild animals in their shared local environment than treat individual animals through his veterinary practice.

When he moved to Imperial Beach, Mr. McCoy took on the struggle with federal Fish and Wildlife to acquire nearby Tijuana River Estuary and wetlands as a federal preserve. He worked with his wife and many others to educate people situated on both sides of the border in Imperial Beach and Baja, CA about the importance of the marshland for preventing more pollution flowing into the Pacific Ocean. Dr. McCoy and his wife Patricia became consistent voices at hearings and inspired others to join the fight. They faced threats and violence when the estuary and wetlands were declared protected by federal government through NOAA, but never backed off. In 2008, the area that he had dedicated much of his life to saving was declared a marine protected area.

Mike McCoy: One of the most emotional moments for us was in 1980 when the Tijuana Estuary was acquired by the Fish and Wildlife Service as a Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. We weren’t sure that was going to happen. We had a get together, after we had done some work over at the estuary…

Patricia McCoy: Oh gosh.

Mike McCoy: We were all celebrating and we went over there and five guys came in there and they had a weapon on them and they shot one guy right in the face. And so we said at that time, it became dangerous because we had all the lug nuts on our wheels of all four wheels on our car were loosened so that wheels would come off or started to come off on the freeway. It got nasty. It was a really, a tough situation. So we – they wanted to kill us and we knew they wanted to kill us, but it was worth the effort, it was like going to war. You’ve got to fight for what you believe in and if you die doing it, that’s just part of it. And that was the way I felt about it, that was the way you felt about it. Because I knew that night that we might all get killed because there was a lot – that guy pulled that gun out and I thought this is just the start, there could be – it could turn into a real nasty situation.

Patricia McCoy: We never really did track it down; we’re not sure to this day. The speculation which isn’t worth bothering with, but it’s all right because in the end it came out well. As my mother said “it’ll all come out in the wash,” and that’s exactly what happened you know. And we, we had a lot of fun doing it, we did. It wasn’t all fun and games, but it really took up all our spare time.

Mike McCoy: The people, people who have, who put money on one side and protection of land on the other side, often get into conflicts like that and it shouldn’t be. It should be, it should be a cooperative understanding between the two sides to make a better world and sometimes it doesn’t come out that way. It’s all – and why the dollar stands so hard or money or whatever it is, greed, corruption, ignorance, I don’t know what it is but it’s definitely something that we have to overcome.

Patricia McCoy: I think too, we’re getting much older and we’re beginning to fall apart and it’s good to see that there are young people going forward and doing the kind of work that we think that needs to be done. It’s still not enough.

Patricia McCoy: We still need more. And education is the key, but that doesn’t work if there’s no passion for the land. The little ones don’t understand how important the earth is to them and I think that’s sometimes as a failure to teach children that, to feel it within themselves I think and that’s so terribly important.