Mike McCoy

The Importance of Estuaries

Recorded: July 29, 2012

Interested in learning about the values of the Tijuana Estuary? Dr. Mike McCoy talks about the physical interrelationships associated with this coastal ecosystem and why it is important to the communities in San Diego, California.

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 the San Diego Zoological Society, and later on for 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 in San Diego, 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: There was a plan to develop the Tijuana River Valley and this would have been a marina, a boat marina. We’re at the Tijuana Estuary and the estuary is tidally influenced, a true salt marsh estuary system. The Tijuana River is right down to the south of us here and that’s where the tide comes in and then it feeds into the tidal channels and as you move in to the estuary, into the marsh plain, the tidal channels get smaller and smaller, they’re like veins and arteries and capillaries and so on you know in your body. They carry the nutrients and the flow in and the waste materials back out again or some of those waste materials become nutrients in the ocean so it’s an exchange between the ocean graphic system and the marine system and the estuary system and that’s where the clapper rails nest is out here and so the health of the estuary is certainly indicative of the health of the rail population also and because it protects them against predators. About 370 to 400 species of birds [unintelligible] the estuary and the Tijuana River Valley. It’s one of the most important bird sites in the county and actually, it’s one important site in the United States. One of our big efforts has been to protect the lands that are adjacent to our community.

Peggy Lauer: Tell me more about that.

Mike McCoy: All right, well we started out there 42 years ago with a group of people to protect the Tijuana Estuary against a marina development and it took us 10 years to get to the point where we protected it as a National Wildlife Refuge working with the Fish and Wildlife Services, the State of California, the Department of Fish and Game and so on and then shortly after that, we worked with NOAA to put in the Tijuana River National Estuary Research Reserve.

Peggy Lauer: What’s the most important thing that you learned?

Mike McCoy: I think if people don’t believe in what they’re doing, that’s the number one thing, they’re not going to be motivated to do anything. So if you – you’ve got to hold hope and opportunity you know as a forefront to that whole thing. And I think that all the fields are going to have to come together to resolve the problems that we have today, biology, engineering, ecology, evolutionary biology, physics, chemistry. But you know it’s got to be centered on a whole new direction. If you design something because it serves an economic purpose only, then I think you’re failing. You have to design something that serves not only humanity but the planet. So as you move forward as individuals in the future, you’ve got to support the life support system that we have here.