Environmental Inspiration from the Baja California Wilderness

Environmental inspiration from the Baja California wilderness.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Environmental inspiration from the Baja California wilderness. Image: Zach Plopper

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Environmental inspiration from the Baja California wilderness

After seven hours down a dusty highway, multiple military checkpoints, and half a day on a jarring dirt road, I realized that a master’s degree and an interest in protecting the ocean were only going to get me so far. I finally arrived at a settlement of ramshackle structures deep in the desert and nervously waved at the rancher I’d be meeting with over the next few days to negotiate a price for his land. I was merely months into the first job of my career, working to protect a vast intact desert wilderness region in Mexico, the last of its scale left in North America. 

Through that experience and many more to quickly follow, I realized I needed skills I wasn’t trained on in school – like real-life problem-solving skills – like when the truck gets stuck in the mud while crossing an estuary and the tide is coming in. Negotiation skills – when I find a tourist with no Spanish language comprehension broken down in the middle of nowhere and a nearby fish camp willing to help him for a price. And cool under-pressure skills – like when rain is pouring in torrents, the road ahead is washing away, and a major donor for the project is riding shotgun.  These were all learning experiences, not just in desert travel 101. 

When I finished my academic studies and embarked on my journey in conservation, I felt like I had a pretty good set of tools to take with me. I had been steeped in the literature on case studies in conservation. I learned from some great minds in international development, planning, and ecosystem protection. I had some decent skills in Geographic Information Systems mapping and planning economics. My Spanish was pretty good. 

But my learning had just begun, and my instructors became, I later realized, the families and landowners I worked with on the wild coasts of Mexico and beaches of California. My mentors became my coworkers, family members, friends, and people in my community – teaching me every day if I let them. 

Much later, after my early trips into the Baja California wilderness, I realized I could apply the survival and other skills I honed in the field to so many circumstances in my life, professionally and personally.

baja Environmental Inspiration from the Baja California Wilderness
Zach Plopper in Baja California

Through my experiences, I picked up a few guiding thoughts that have helped me through a very exciting, fulfilling and impactful career so far. I hope they can inspire new conservationists and doers and help make positive changes for the planet. 

1. Get out there and enjoy nature! 

Explore. Learn outside. And most importantly, have fun. You won’t want to protect something that you don’t care about, so make sure you get out there and enjoy the outdoors. You don’t need to travel to a national park or deep into the wilderness to do so. Find the time for at least a little bit every day to experience your local park, the beach, a local reserve, or even just outside your home. 

2. Learn about issues that affect you locally or something that you care about. 

There is a lot to consider when approaching how to protect the environment. But maybe there is one area that concerns you or has affected you the most. Maybe you are concerned about plastic and trash getting into our ocean because of an article you read, a movie you watched or maybe something you saw at the beach. There might be an opportunity to do something about what concerns you in your own community. Surfrider.org has many resources on plastic pollution, water quality, ocean protection, climate change, and coastal access issues for you to explore and ways to get engaged.

3. Volunteer or intern for a non-profit organization that is dedicated to a cause you care about. 

If you’re an aspiring conservationist or just want to help out your community, there are many opportunities for you! Look online or around the parks and protected areas near you for organizations in your region that work on something you care about and find ways to get involved. At Surfrider, you can volunteer for beach cleanups, help advocate for policies that protect our ocean, and even plant a mangrove that helps fight climate change. 

4. Say yes.

It’s easy to say no to opportunities. It’s just as easy to say yes. Sometimes it’s not immediately apparent that there is a new opportunity in front of you, an opportunity to grow despite how difficult the challenge may seem. The opportunities often result from relationships and the enabling conditions you have created around you. Take risks and say yes to opportunities that might expand your experience. 

5. Allow yourself to get uncomfortable

Sometimes those opportunities require some level of discomfort. But you said yes. So now you’re in it. Enjoy the challenge.

6. Seek mentorship. 

Be aware of those around you and the teachers among us. They are not always apparent. Sometimes they are in the least expected places. You might not even agree with them on 98% of the things they say, but we have more to learn from each other than we often recognize. 

7. Apply your superpowers.

Everyone has them. Incorporate your creativity, organisation skills, sociability, storytelling, humor, and physical talents. Everyone has something that others don’t, and you’d be surprised how you can contribute to a movement based on your passions and talents. I have friends who are artists, professional surfers, musicians and writers who have lent their skills to significantly advance ocean protection in some form or another. 

8. Tell your story. 

Make sure that you share your story with your family, class, the mayor or even the President about the problem you hope to solve. Explain why you care. What moment or experience got you interested in the issue at hand? You don’t need to hide behind the science or the policy. Make the issue real for them because it is for you. 

9. Walk the walk.

If you’re talking about saving the ocean, a forest, or any other ecosystem or wildlife you care about, ensure you embody the cause. I’ve had sand between my toes for many important meetings, and although my audience cannot see behind my shoes and socks, they can tell that I care about the world’s oceans, waves and beaches. 

10. Get back outside. 

After all the hard work it takes to protect the ocean and the environment, it is important to remember why you do it. We do it because we love it. Treat yourself when the day is done, and get back out there.

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