Serge Dedina, Marshall ’87, wrote his first letter to the editor at only 7 years old. By the time he was 16, he stood in front of a bulldozer to bring awareness to wetland conservation. Today, he’s the newest mayor of his hometown of Imperial Beach, Calif.
While growing up in the coastal town south of downtown San Diego, Dedina’s family became involved in the protection of the Tijuana River Estuary. They volunteered for clean-ups and protested damming, eventually contributing to its protection as a State Park and wetland of national importance. As mayor, Dedina continues to protect wild places.
He is the co-founder and executive director of a bi-national conservation team, WiLDCOAST, headquartered across the street from the Imperial Beach pier. With offices in the Mexican cities of Ensenada, La Paz, San Jose del Cabo and Huatulco, WiLDCOAST has assisted in the conservation of more than 3.2 million acres of coastal and marine areas, protecting the habitats and ecosystems of sea birds, whales and wildlife.
“I know how to make a difference, and I really love doing it,” he says. “That’s what drives me.”
In 2013, he was named a Muir Environmental Fellow by UC San Diego’s John Muir College, joining a select group of individuals affiliated with the university whose work has contributed significantly to the cause of sustainability and environmental preservation.
Dedina says he puts his UC San Diego education in political science, urban studies and geography to work every day. “I had a really great experience at UC San Diego. I got an education that has prepared me for everything that I’m doing now with WiLDCOAST in my community, and also as mayor,” Dedina says.
Dedina’s upbringing instilled him with a strong sense of service, one that now serves others in his community. “I was raised with a profound respect for democracy in my household, but more importantly, the importance of making a difference,” he says. “You can’t wait for somebody to do something for you, or come to the rescue. You have to get involved and engaged, and also build a community for that process.”
Like many who grow up in San Diego County, Dedina soon discovered surfing, and quickly fell in love with the sport. He now describes it as a way to connect with others, by experiencing our natural world.
“Surfing is part of my conservation work—we surf with fishermen and with members of indigenous communities in Mexico—so it’s a really good way to engage with folks,” says Dedina. “It’s not just riding waves, but [it’s] the fact that I’m riding waves and spending time with members of a community who are saving sea turtles on a really beautiful remote beach, with tons of iguanas that are in this wetland ecosystem that we’re working to conserve.”
The WiLDCOAST team works to ensure that everyone from free divers, to lifeguards and surfers understand they have a right to use the ocean, as well as a responsibility to minimize their overall impact. This grassroots, stakeholder-based approach has been successful in remote parts of Mexico as well as San Diego. WiLDCOAST even works with Scripps Institution of Oceanography staff on many projects, including coral reef conservation in Eastern Baja, as well as the conservation of gray whale lagoons.
Back in Imperial Beach, Dedina is now focused on his new role as mayor. As the city’s first elected official who speaks fluent Spanish, he is already tackling important projects, such as bringing in the city’s first large-scale grocery store, introducing more parks, building crosswalks and putting in sidewalks.
“There was a need for a different kind of leadership in Imperial Beach that was more community-based, acknowledging the role that our community plays in the civic life of our city,” Dedina said. “We can work together to improve the quality of life for our families.”