SFX: Estuary sounds, birds chirping, footsteps crunching on gravel trail.
LUNDSTEN: Early-morning hikers forge a path through tall native grasses, pausing here and there to point out birds.
SFX: “I think that’s an Osprey.”
They’re taking their daily walk at the Tijuana River Estuary Research Reserve.
An *estuary is basically where the river meets the sea. Located in
SFX: More chirping and estuary sounds.
LUNDSTEN: But it wasn’t always this tranquil.
SFX: Birds fade out.
LUNDSTEN: Back in the 1970s, the estuary was a political war zone. Mike McCoy is president of the Southwest Interpretive Wetlands Association, which formed to preserve and restore wetlands. He says developers had big plans for the area.
MIKE McCOY: ...to work with local government to dredge the estuary and develop it and make it into a residential marina.
LUNDSTEN: McCoy says he couldn’t let that happen.
McCOY: The Tijuana Estuary was one of the last estuaries
that was relatively pristine – there weren’t roads crossing it, railroads,
power lines, etc, etc, that create the deterioration of wetland eco-systems in
In fact, he says 90% of
MCCOY: It got violent, literally violent – to the point where I know my life was threatened, other people’s lives were threatened, one man got shot...
LUNDSTEN: But McCoy says it was worth it to save the area.
McCOY: It was not an easy battle, but nothin’s easy...if you believe in it ya gotta do it.
Phillips is Superintendent of the South Sector of the San Diego Coast District
for California State Parks and manager of the Tijuana Estuary Research
says estuaries are vital to
the environment[JE2] .
PHILLIPS: The reason these estuaries are so important is because well, one, they’re Mother Nature’s natural filter for the sake of water pollution in the ocean and in the other direction, they’re Mother Nature’s natural storm surge protection for the sake of coastal flooding[JE3] .
LUNDSTEN: He says they’re also important for both fisheries and wildlife.
LUNDSTEN: Birders can spot more than 370 species, including six endangered. Even though saving the estuary was a success, Phillips says there are still challenges facing the wetlands.
PHILLIPS: One of the problems is sewage in the estuary and the coastal waters. Our beaches are often closed because of sewage pollution. Second problem is trash and tires – one year we took 4000 tires out of the estuary.
But he says the biggest problem is *sediment – caused by runoff from
development across the border in
PHILLIPS: Only a half a foot of sediment can choke out that tidal exchange and basically make it a non-functioning system and that’s what’s happened in many parts of our estuary.
Phillips says there are some current projects going on to help. One is
developing *sediment basins – basically, storage receptacles – to trap excess
sediment. Another is figuring out where
to dump waste collected in the estuary and maybe create a place for it to go
*before it even gets into the
Another plan is getting the word out to Tijuanans.
Ben McHue is Program Manager for Wildcoast, a community non-profit organization
dedicated to protecting and preserving coastal areas in California and Latin
America. He says his organization does a lot of outreach, including a weekly
radio show in Tijuana that discusses issues affecting both Mexico and the U.S. McHUE:
So we’re really trying to advocate for bi-national solutions – increase planned
community development in Tijuana, increased resources for trash and sewage
collection and treatment and disposal. As well as getting some of the local
community here involved in the protection of the estuary and the protection of
the watershed and to get them to understand their connection to the health of
the estuary – basically, the health of our environment here determines the
health of our communities.
Clay Phillips says it’s important for Californians to protect the estuary,
PHILLIPS: The most important mechanism for natural resource protection is public advocacy. If people don’t know about it, then legislators aren’t going to care about it and if legislators don’t care about it, then we’re not going to see the regulations and funding needed to protect these places.
He says saving the estuary only happened because of hard-won partnerships. PHILLIPS:
I mean this is kind of a magical place – not only is it a cool natural
resource, but it’s magical because we actually have federal agencies working
side by side with state agencies and it actually works. LUNDSTEN:
Those agencies are
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California State Parks, who work with
several local, federal, bi-national and international groups -- like the City
of San Diego, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association, Border Patrol, the
Cities of Tecate and Tijuana, and the International Boundary and Water
Commission, among others . Phillips
says he can wax poetic about why the Tijuana River Estuary is important to
PHILLIPS: Come and visit and see for yourself. (This is said in a really sweet and nice way...the cadence makes it interesting...)
Visitors can explore four miles of trails – on foot or horseback[JE5] , as well as check out the
If you want to find out more about *supporting all of