Off the southern coast of California, just across the border from Tijuana, Mexico, dolphins swim around the fence that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. “They don’t really care,” said Jeff Crooks, a University of San Diego scientist who has been doing research along the U.S.-Mexico border for the past 16 years.
The border fence here was built long before President Donald Trump’s campaign promises to “build a wall.” Barriers run for 46 miles separating San Diego County from Mexico; near the end, it runs along the southern part of a giant salt marsh system where Crooks works, studying the Tijuana estuary. And while the habitat he and his team are studying isn’t bisected, the towering line of metal and steel stretching across the coastal hills pays no attention to the winding Tijuana river system.
“There’s an old quote about southern California rivers,” Crooks told ThinkProgress. “I fell into the river and came out dusty.” He suspects that the river wasn’t flowing when the border was set over a century ago. Crossing back and forth from Mexico, into the U.S., back into Mexico, and finally out to the California coast, makes it “a little complicated” to understand and manage the river, he said.
“One of the things that is really evident for people on both sides of the border is that nature has no borders,” said Sergio Avila, a conservation scientist who has worked around the borderlands for 20 years. “Nature does not care about policies on one side of the border or the other.”
For years, scientists have been working in the U.S.-Mexico border regions. They have been tracking jaguars and bison, monitoring rare plant species and monarch butterfly migrations. And while the dolphins might not be too bothered, the proposed expansion of the wall could significantly impact biodiversity.
But it’s not just the plants and animals whose movements will be increasingly restricted; scientists too are finding that their work is becoming more difficult — with their personal safety sometimes at risk — as political tensions rise and security is bolstered along the border.