Marya Ahmad ...

Marya Ahmad has left her position as education specialist/researcher at the estuary and is now working at the California State Parks San Diego Coast District Office as an Environmental Coordinator office in Old Town.

If you have been to the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (TRNERR) for a walk or one of the many programs you probably have come across Marya Ahmad. Ahmad, the education specialist/research assistant, who has been a fixture at the Tijuana Estuary for the past 24 years has moved to another job within the State Park system.

While Ahmad’s office is now in Old Town, she works from the Tijuana Estuary visitor’s center building on Fridays and gets to see her old co-workers. But regardless, it was hard to say goodbye after so many years. “There are a few that have been here as long as me. We’re a family here,” she said.

Ahmad is now at the San Diego Coast District Office and works as an environmental coordinator overseeing projects that need California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) approval move along. At the estuary, she was known for her work doing monitoring, field trips, Parks Online Resource Teachers & Students (PORTS) programs for students third to 12th grade and Lunchtime Live, especially during the pandemic which kept people engaged and learning.

Originally from Washington D.C., she often visited California since she had family in Central California, and when it came time to look for a college she chose to go to school in California. She first took classes at Grossmont Community College and them transferred to San Diego State University.

At first she was thinking of studying accounting, but she soon developed a love for environmental biology thanks to one of her professors. “He was passionate, was a new teacher and [the subject] sounded very meaningful,” she said.

Once she took more classes in the field, she found out about TRNNR. “This place came to my attention and I became an intern for nine months, then a position opened in education,” she said. Ahmad has a degree in social science with an environmental emphasis.

Ahmad was hired in March 1998 and started in the education program, which is where she stayed for 24 years. In 2003 she got involved in research, which she believes was a great combination. She did monitoring of plants, fish, invertebrates, and weather and water quality with collection of data.

Right after COVID hit, Ahmad became the host of Lunchtime Live, a program broadcasted on Facebook every Tuesday which discussed some of the flora and fauna of the estuary. The program had started a little before COVID, but once social distancing was a must, Lunchtime Live became a weekly event. Ahmad has also worked with State Park employee Marie Anne Tipton on 45 minute virtual programs for schools PORTS, which is a live program directly in the classroom. Ahmad had also just started a high school program right before COVID.

Over the past 24 years, Ahmad has seen a lot of physical changes in the estuary. “When I first started, there was a small salt marsh and there were hardly any plants by the bridge. I saw that grow into the salt marsh that it is today. Also 20 acres at border field were created,” she said.

Ahmad has fond memories of working and organizing annual special events with Fish and Wildlife. While those events were held regularly she always tried to put a spin to them so they were different every year. She often collaborated with Fish and Wildlife employee Debbie Good. “It was like working with a family to create these experiences for the community,” she said.

When Ahmad first started working at the estuary she recalls hardly knowing the names of any plants and animals and her training was truly on the job. “I learned a lot by doing, planting, buying plants and learning about the cycle, see the seasonal change… during the plant and bird walks all year you see the patterns change,” she said.

Over time she Ahmad has noticed more tropical species take hold at the estuary because the ocean water is becoming warmer with climate change. Another big change has been the move to more virtual experiences, but regardless she has always strived to be creative all the time.

Ahmad thought this period in her life was a good time to make a change. “I’m about to turn 50, there is an opportunity there to do something different with a new job in the district as an environmental coordinator working with CEQA process - moving projects along and determining if they comply with environmental law,” she explained.

Just before this interview, which was on a Friday when Ahmad spends time in Imperial Beach, she had just come back from Border Field State Park, where she collected data on the tar balls that had washed ashore. “I’m still working in the field with the San Elijo Lagoon restoration where they are dredging sediment, and we are checking the grain size and material before it’s dumped into the ocean,” she explained.

In addition to having a new job Ahmad has also recently become engaged. New employee Empress Holliday, who was previously working both at the estuary and Silver Strand office, is replacing Ahmad.

Ahmad has always been an active person. Many times her commute to the estuary included driving to Coronado where she left her car at Tidelands Park, and riding her bike to Imperial Beach. She has enjoyed backpacking and hiking throughout her life and some of her accomplishments include going to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, reaching Mount Everest base camp, backpacking in New Zealand and spending time in the Sierras.

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