Dr. Mike McCoy is one of three finalists for the 4th Annual Cox Conserves Heroes award for his decades of commitment to preserving outdoor spaces.
Voting ends Sept. 10 at 5 p.m.
If McCoy wins, the nonprofit he founded, the Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association (), may receive up to $5,000. SWIA works on wetland restoration projects in the estuary and elsewhere.
A video about all three finalists can be viewed on the Cox Conserves Heroes website.
Along with other environmentalists and community residents, Mike and his wife Patricia worked for years to earn protection for the Tijuana Estuary, which became a major issue of conflict in IB for much of the 1970s.
A decade prior, the City of Imperial Beach and developers began to work on plans to dredge the area and build a marina.
In 1971, in an effort to preserve one of California's last coastal wetlands, veterarinarian Dr. Mike McCoy began to organize with local residents and fellow environmentalists to oppose the plans.
As the issue gained more and more attention, according to a city history book, Imperial Beach: A Pictoral History, the couple were repeatedly threatened, and in 1980 someone loosened the lug nuts on their car and they were almost killed while driving on the freeway.
In spring 1980, voters ratified Proposition A, approving the marina project.
But later that year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services purchased the land and established the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. The area would become a National Estuarine Research Reserve a year later.
Today, the remains the largest coastal wetland of Southern California and one of its is named after Mike and Patricia McCoy.
Debi Carey is SWIA's adiministrative director.
McCoy's commitment doesn't end at the estuary, she said, noting that he has played a role in the establishment of Living Coast Discovery Center and Otay Valley Regional Park in Chula Vista, and more recently earning for land near the Tijuana River.
"Anything to do to with protecting the environment and educating people about the value of the environment, he's all for it," she said.
"It never ends. We say 'The guy just doesn't know how to say no," she said. "He's tireless. Right now he's on vacation in his cabin in Colorado, and you can be sure he's working on something there too."
Carey described McCoy as a person with unique attributes: persistant and determined, serious about conservation, but also likes a good joke and talking to people.
"Probably his last breath will be spent on some project he's working on to protect the environment for everybody," she said.
McCoy still works part-time at the .