We had the good fortune of connecting with Zach Plopper and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Zach, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was extraordinarily fortunate to grow up in Solana Beach, California and walking distance to the Pacific Ocean. This undoubtedly shaped who I am today. Because of that proximity, the beach and the reefs around where I lived became my backyard and I spent thousands of hours surfing, diving, swimming and playing there. Riding waves became my favorite past time. Something that I continue to do today as much as possible. Surfing has taken me around the world. In 2008 when I finished grad school at UCLA, I was offered my first position at WILDCOAST and my passion for the ocean and my career aspirations converged. Since taking that first opportunity, I have been able to continue to pursue my passion for travel and surfing, working on coastal conservation projects in California and Mexico, consulting on international fisheries and marine conservation issues in the Philippines and Ecuador, and visiting coastlines from Australia to Spain to speak at and facilitate international forums on coastal conservation. It all started in Solana Beach and I attribute my path to growing up by its golden sands.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started at WILDCOAST in 2008, fresh out of grad school. WILDCOAST, founded 2000, is an international team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and addresses climate change through natural solutions. As my masters thesis I wrote a strategic framework for conserving a remote Pacific stretch of the Baja California Peninsula known as the Valley of the Boojum Tree. It is the last vast desert wilderness coastline left untouched in North America. The document not only got me a job, it became WILDCOAST’s guiding resource to protect what is now 51,000 acres of conserved Pacific coastline. Since leading that project I have worked on marine protected area policy and management in California, federal protections on seamounts off of the California coast, marine spatial planning in Ecuador, and scaling up marine protected areas in Mexico. Now, as Associate Director – I get to help drive the conservation of more than 36 million acres of ocean and coastlines with our team of 20 in the US and Mexico. Most challenging to this work, and a skill that I only learned in the trenches of conservation, is negotiation. Finding common ground. In order to do so, there has to be a collaborative process to a common goal. It starts in a palm frond hut with fishermen on the beach of Oaxaca, or on the docks of Southern California’s fishing harbors, and then works its way organically through an inclusive process to the top and ultimately comes out in the form of protected land or ocean with local conservation stewards on board.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The best day in San Diego with one of my international friends – from South Africa, Wales, Brazil, Mexico, or the Philippines for example – would start with a surf at one of my favorite local surf spots in north San Diego County. We would follow that up with a light early lunch at Rudy’s Taco Shop in Solana Beach and then explore some other beach areas. I’d have to call it quits with the friends and then visit North Torrey Pines State Beach with my wife and two boys – its the best back yard.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My Shoutout is dedicated to my WILDCOAST staff in California and Mexico. Everyday they inspire me and teach me about life and conservation. I would also like to recognize my boss, mentor, and surf/travel partner for the past 12 years – Dr. Serge Dedina – for providing me with opportunity, pushing me, and allowing me to win and fail.
Photo Credits: WILDCOAST