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Meet Zach Plopper of WILDCOAST in Imperial Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to Zach Plopper.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I have always been attached to the ocean – surfing the reefs and beaches around Solana Beach, Del Mar, and Encinitas, traveling the world in search of waves and competing on the World Surf League’s qualifying series, and eventually dedicating my career to the protection of coastal and marine resources and wildlife. Although I didn’t apply to a single university east of the 5 freeway, my parents instilled in me the value of a solid education and I received my master and bachelor degrees in urban planning from UCLA and UCSD. From there, and in the hunt for the perfect job that allows maximum water time, travel and the application of my studies, I landed my first job with WILDCOAST – creating and managing what is now 50,000 acres of protected desert wilderness coastline on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula.

That was in 2008. A decade later and I am still part of the WILDCOAST team as the organization’s Conservation Director. Today I get to oversee, manage and help fund an array of high impact conservation projects in California, Mexico, and Cuba, including our work to conserve over half a million acres of marine protected areas off of the California coast. I still get plenty of time in the water. In fact, last year, I got to surf the perfect points of southern Mexico during a site visit to our coral reef and sea turtle projects, the frigid waters of central Chile during the International Marine Protected Area Conference, and the reefs of San Diego County’s marine protected areas. It is still my dream job come true.

Has it been a smooth road?
The road to my career path was made easy by a supportive family, wonderful institutions and a clear dedication to the ocean, coast, science, and planning. The work to conserve over 31.6 million acres has not been so easy but every challenge has been met with a learning experience and personal and professional growth. In 2011, I made seven trips to our remote project sites in the Baja California desert wilderness; that’s about 275 hours in the car on jarring mountain tracks, isolated lonely highways, moon dust arroyos, and boggy wetland trails. There have been raining squalls and hurricanes, flat tires, travel advisories, injuries, and even a tsunami warning. I have learned a lot from those trips.

The obstacles to my work today are sometimes less adventurous but no less challenging. Working on coastal and ocean ecosystem conservation in the United States and Mexico, including public policy, it is often my job to collaborate with diverse interests to achieve WILDCOAST’s conservation mission. I have to wear different hats week by week but my experiences over the past decade as a conservationist have prepared me for many situations, some of which are uncomfortable. The greatest lesson I have learned over the years is to be prepared, gather the facts, and then decide. This has helped me through sticky situations on the road, in the field, at the lectern, and in the water.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
WILDCOAST is an international team the conserves coastal and marine ecosystems. Through the establishment and management of protected areas, advancing high impact conservation policy, and directly engaging local communities on the ground in our projects we are conserving over 31.6 million acres of the world’s most important coastal and ocean places. We have a staff of 20 that operate out of our offices in Imperial Beach, Ensenada, La Paz, and Huatulco. For more information visit wildcoast.org

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
My work keeps me traveling to some of my favorite places on the planet as well as to new adventures. Imperial Beach, where I can be found most days, is a cozy little beach town wedged between the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. The Coronado Islands, part of the Pacific Islands Biosphere Reserve – a 2,9 million-acre protected area we helped establish, sit right offshore. It is amazing to be surrounded by protected open space, even though ocean water quality is a serious issue in the area. Having thriving coastal and ocean ecosystems around our office reminds me daily of why it is I do this work.

But the journeys abroad, which I have so fortunately been able to enjoy, are what inspire me the most. Through experiences in the field, I have learned the most about conservation and myself. In 2017, I helped facilitate a two-week intensive capacity training with the Philippines National Department of Environment and Natural Resources, US AID, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a remote corner of Luzon Island. I had never been to the Coral Triangle before. But my experiences in the field in Mexico, California, and Cuba have given me a solid foundation in conservation, communication, and flexibility to contribute to the program and the scaling up of the Philippines marine protected area network (including when the airline lost my luggage forever on the third day of the trip). In turn, I learned so much from my new friends in the Philippines and our work in California and Mexico is benefiting from the experience.

The travel is not always comfortable; but when we look at it through a larger lens and keep our eyes, ears, and mind open, the rewards can be fantastic.

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