Book Review: Wild Sea, Eco Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias

Cover of Wild Sea book

Published in 2011, author Serge Dedina writes about corporations’ attempts at destruction along the US and Mexican Baja California coastlines. These types of endeavors happen regularly and are indicative of how greed and human selfishness challenge natural ecosystems and environmental protections.

Dedina grew up surfing in Southern and Baja California and holds a doctorate in geography. He is the co-founder and executive director of Wildcoast, an international nonprofit that combines environmental issues with cultural values to protect coastal areas and marine ecosystems. I’ve featured just a few of his stories from this book.

Image of a gray whale breaching
Gray whale breaching. Image by Eric Neitzel on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Natural Resources

Dedina began the international campaign against Exportadora de Sal’s proposal to develop the world’s largest salt production facility. This company, jointly owned by the Mitsubishi Corporation and the Mexican government, would have built its facility adjacent to San Ignacio Lagoon. This is the world’s last undeveloped gray whale birthing lagoon. This project would have destroyed more than 500,000 acres in the reserve and prevented gray whale breeding and calving. Fortunately, the Mexican president canceled it in 2000 as a result of the campaign against it. Today, Wildcoast exhibits its progress with gray whale protection on its website.

Google map screenshot of Baja California with the San Ignacio Lagoon indicated with a red marker.
Google map screenshot of Baja California with San Ignacio Lagoon indicated
Gray whale in San Ignacio lagoon
Gray whale in San Ignacio Lagoon. Photo by Ryan Harvey on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“From 2001 to 2008, as a result of the explosion of energy development and hotel, condo, and housing construction in the United States, the landscape of coastal protection suddenly changed: for activists to keep pace with development threats to the coast became almost impossible.” -Serge Dedina

Energy Production

In the early 2000s, Dedina worked against the proposals of Shell, Chevron-Texaco, Sempra, BHP Billiton, and Marathon Oil to build a network of eleven liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals between Tijuana and Ensenada. They were supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the George W. Bush administration. The biggest threat was Chevron-Texaco’s plan to builds its $700 million plant adjacent to the Coronado Islands, which are home to elephant seals and the threatened sea bird, Xantus’s murrelet.

Google map screenshot showing the short distance between Tijuana and Ensenada; Coronado Islands on the left
Google map screenshot showing the short distance between Tijuana and Ensenada; Coronado Islands on the left

In 2007, Chevron-Texaco announced that it was abandoning the project in the Coronado Islands. By 2009, all but 3 of the LNG projects had been abandoned. Costa Azul LNG opened in 2008, located 15 miles north of Ensenada, and was the first LNG terminal on the North American west coast. Sempra LNG and IEnova announced in March 2020 that they plan to add liquefaction facilities to the existing Costa Azul terminal. Environmental and conservation issues continue as many LNG’s exist all over the world, many of them on or near coastlines.

Image of northern elephant seals
Northern elephant seals by Elaine Calvert on Flickr, Creative Commons license 2.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“The U.S.-Mexico border can no longer be a no-man’s-land that provides refuge for corporations seeking to escape U.S. environmental laws and elected officials seeking to blame Mexican migrants for our nation’s problems.” -Serge Dedina

Image of a Xantus's Murrelet
A Xantus’s Murrelet by Stonebird on Flickr, Creative Commons license 2.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Human Recreation

In 1999, the City of San Diego proposed dredging a tiny beach in La Jolla called Casa Beach “to rid the area of a small population of what were supposed to be federally protected harbor seals.” La Jolla is an upscale suburb of San Diego. A small group of its influential and wealthy residents were also irrational, antiwildlife activists who wanted the seals removed so that humans would have more recreational beach area. This plan would have violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act enacted by President Nixon in 1972.

Image of a harbor seal in La Jolla, California
Harbor seal in La Jolla, California. Image by Amy the Nurse on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The legal and political dispute over the seal rookery and these beautiful animals inhabiting Casa Beach has continued through the last decade (view the timeline). Fortunately, beach access is not allowed during harbor seal pupping season, December 15 through May 15.

Unfortunately, humans are sometimes selfish and some continue to disturb the harbor seals. Often this is in the form of photographing people with the animals, a form of wildlife tourism. Other times, the seals are taunted, teased, and even physically harmed.

Remember, wildlife viewing is ok from a distance. Give animals plenty of space between you and them so that they do not feel threatened and alter their normal activities because of you. Even photography with animals can be harmful and disturbing. Please teach your children this too!

“Conserving marine mammal populations in densely populated urban coastal areas in Southern California is a national test case for our ability to protect coastal and marine ecosystems and the wildlife they harbor.” -Serge Dedina

Many Other Movements

Problems persist with the human quest to exploit natural resources, which threaten coastal and marine areas. Dedina worked against a botched sewage treatment facility scheme in Tijuana; a desalination project in Southern California; and the destruction of protected marine areas. Additional projects include LNGs, oil drilling, pipeline installation, border and security wall construction proposals, and human recreation.

“A new generation of pirates has emerged in coastal Southern California. They are bureaucrats, union officials, corporate lobbyists, CEOs, oil company barons, and elected officials who view the natural coastline and ocean of California as an area to be plundered rather than preserved. They do their best to rid Southern California of the shoreline that makes the coast the oxygen that fuels the state’s vibrant culture and economy.” -Serge Dedina


Dedina and Wildcoast continue their work to conserve coastal and marine ecosystems. The organization works with local communities to stop poaching, promote conservation, and protect resources. They work to develop systems of marine protected areas, also called MPAs, which help preserve natural coastal and marine ecosystems. You can read more about these on Wildcoast’s website.

There are many ways we can all help! When traveling, educate yourself on the local nature and wildlife protections in place. Clean up trash, track wildlife and fauna through a local group, or lobby for clean air. Teach others about climate change, pollution, endangered species, or any of the important topics surrounding safeguarding our beautiful planet.

I really enjoyed this book and found it worth reviewing. Thanks for reading today, and please subscribe!

Have you heard of Wildlife Tourism?

It seems that every type of tourism exists now, as you can almost have any experience you can dream of if you’re willing to pay for it. But when does it go too far?

This is something I wasn’t really familiar with until I read an article about it recently. But once I read up on it, I realized that I had participated in this type of tourism myself! It’s a broad topic and also slightly outside of the scope of my blog, but I wanted to expose my readers to the topic.

Photo of a woman riding an elephant in the ocean surf.
Photo by Andy_Bay on Pixabay

What is Wildlife Tourism?

Simply put, wildlife tourism is interacting with wild animals either in their natural habitat or within controlled environments, such as tours where you can bathe with elephants. It also includes observing and photographing animals, interacting with animals in zoos or wildlife parks, and animal-riding. Hunting and safari trips are sometimes lumped into this category as well, but for the purposes of this post, I’m not including those today.

This type of adventure travel can support the values of ecotourism and nature conservation programs. But it can be damaging if not done responsibly.

A growing industry

Wildlife tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the tourism industry. It is often an important part of the economy in many countries. According to a 2005 book on Wildlife Tourism, “ecotourism generates as much as $20 billion in revenues each year. It is especially important to the economy of some lesser developed countries.” Wildlife tourism spans the globe and is happening on every continent.

John Scanlon, the Secretary-general of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), wrote an article entitled “The world needs wildlife tourism. But that won’t work without wildlife.” He wrote that in Belize “more than 50% of the population are said to be supported by income generated through reef-related tourism and fisheries.”

Photo of a man posing with an owl.
Photo by Una Laurencic from Pexels

Good for economies – but is it good for wildlife?

This is, of course, the big controversy: Can wildlife tourism protect threatened and endangered animals while vastly improving local economies?

The answer is sometimes. I found many articles and even entire books dedicated to this very topic.

In Scanlon’s article, he argued that when wildlife tourism is done appropriately, it can actually protect animals, even endangered species. Wildlife tourism provides economic resources to local communities. When those local communities have such a stake in the wildlife, they will become the greatest protectors of it. Some countries, such as Kenya, have developed national guidelines for ecotourism. In one region, for example, elephant poaching was reduced by 50% and no rhinos have been poached in 4 years.

In a January 2010 article entitled “Tourists and turtles: Searching for a balance in Tortuguero, Costa Rica” from Conservation and Society, sea turtles and wildlife tourism “are now so inextricably linked in some places” because “sea turtle conservation organizations promote tourism as a way to ‘save turtles'”.

However, without informed and effective management, wildlife tourism can have negative effects on wildlife. It can disrupt normal activity, cause injuries, and alter habitats. In a June 2018 article from NewsRx Health & Science, a study of white sharks interacting with cage-divers found it may change the activity levels of the sharks and distract them from normal behaviors, such as foraging.

Photo of a diver looking at a sea turtle in the ocean.
Photo by Anton Avanzato on Pexels

National Geographic‘s exposure

I recently read an article about Wildlife Tourism in the June 2019 issue of National Geographic. The magazine sent a reporter and a photographer to different countries to explore this business, and what they often found was exploitation rather than conservation. I’ll be honest, the article was depressing and left me feeling really sad. But it was worth reading because it opened my eyes to the issue.

As Susan Goldberg from National Geographic wrote, wildlife tourism “a way for people to appreciate and support animals when it’s done appropriately but an exploitive business with terrible consequences when it’s not.”

The article provided helpful guidelines for wildlife tourism, such as paying attention to the animal’s health, weight, and general appearance. Is the animal underweight? Does the animal have obvious injuries or illness? Is the animal performing unnatural tasks (such as bathing or giving rides to tourists)? Does the animal seem to have been trained by fear?

Sad photo of a tiger on a short chain sitting in shallow water.
Photo from Free-Photos on Pixabay

I am responsible too

When I was a teenager, my Dad took me to a popular tourist site in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to see a parade of wild animals. The elephants, lions, and tigers were starring in a popular movie at the time and touring, I suppose, to promote the film. We sat with the animals and got our photos taken.

Author holding a baby lion.

Author and her Dad sitting with a tiger.

While I wouldn’t have known better then, and my Dad was just trying to show me a good time that summer, we participated in wildlife tourism. I don’t see any injuries or evidence of neglect in these photos, but I have no idea if they were treated well. See the chain on the tiger?

I’ve also let my child ride the camel at the Chattanooga Zoo. I let him feed the giraffes at Zoo Atlanta as well. Were those examples of exploitation, or just fun childhood interactions? I’d assume both zoos treat their animals well since they are members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. But not all organizations and countries have or follow guidelines set forth by national and international organizations.

Going forward

Now that I’m aware of the potential problems with wildlife tourism, I feel it’s important to share the issues with my readers. John Scanlon wrote that tourism operators have the opportunity to protect wildlife while making money. “But operators can’t do it alone. How we behave as individual tourists is ultimately what counts.”

The most important take away from the National Geographic article and this blog post is that we should all be aware, be intentional, and be mindful of what we are doing when it comes to wildlife tourism.

Thanks for reading, please share and subscribe!

Additional Resource:

Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism