{ PERSON OF INTEREST }

Mayor, Conservationist, and Ocean Lover

Serge Dedina advocates for California’s and Latin America’s coastal areas

BY WENDY LEMLIN
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When I arrived at Serge Dedina’s office, he was barefoot and wet-haired. “Sorry,” he apologized, glancing at his feet, “but I just got out of the water a couple of minutes ago, and my sandals are all wet and sandy.” The Mayor of Imperial Beach, Executive Director of WILDCOAST, author, conservationist, avid surfer and possible merman went on to clarify that he had joined an international group of swimmers from five countries for a portion of their cross-border swim from Imperial Beach to Tijuana to bring attention to migrants’ rights.

In fact, almost every morning begins in the water for Dedina—usually surfing, but if there aren’t any waves, a swim at the very least. “I plug into the ocean every day,” he admits, “and I’m at my best early in the morning, out in the waves. When you paddle out on a pumping, cold winter day in Imperial Beach, politics seems pretty simple in comparison.”

It was this lifelong passion for the world’s oceans that led Mayor Dedina to earn a PhD in geography (as well as a Master’s in geography and a Bachelor’s in political science) and find his calling as a conservationist for coastal waters and the marine life that inhabits it.

In 2000, he co-founded WILDCOAST, an international conservation organization protecting some of the most beautiful and biologically significant coastal areas in the Californias and Latin America. Prior to that, Dedina was the founding director of The Nature Conservancy’s Baja California-Sea of Cortez Program. Growing up in Imperial Beach, Dedina spent his childhood helping to preserve the Tijuana Estuary as a National Wildlife Refuge, and he has worked on water quality issues in the San Diego-Tijuana region since 1980. Among his many honors, Dedina has received the Surf Industry’s Environmental Award, San Diego Zoological Society’s Conservation Medal and the California Coastal Commission’s “Coastal Hero” Award in recognition of his conservation achievements. He was named a UCSD John Muir College Muir Environmental Fellow in 2013 and was honored as a Peter Benchley “Hero of the Sea” in 2016.

Dedina has served as Mayor of Imperial Beach since 2014. He ran for the office, he says, “because I saw the need for a mayor who totally loves the community and makes the happiness of the residents his first priority. I moved to IB when I was seven years old. It has been my home almost my entire life, and I love it passionately.”

Does he have further political ambitions? “No,” he emphasizes. “I love being mayor here. I get up and hit the water. I ride my bike around town and talk to people. In the summer, we set up an outdoor ‘mayor’s office’ at the pier. The way I live my life is typical of someone who grew up on the beach in Southern California, surfing and being intimately involved with the environment. It’s how I connect to the people and get things done, and why I have been able to accomplish so much for the community. Would I be as effective in Sacramento, or stuck in a dark office?  I doubt it.”

In addition to his other accomplishments, Dedina has authored two books, Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias and Surfing the Border: Adventures at the Edge of the Ocean. Additionally, as a lifeguard in the early 80s, Dedina rescued 500 people. But when asked about his greatest accomplishment, he beams, “Raising two incredible sons, who are now 19 and 21. And sharing my life with my wife, Emily, to whom I’ve been married since 1989.”