Nature Collective

About Nature Collective

Looking for things to do in San Diego with kids? Friends? Family? Coworkers? Nature Collective provides perfect places for immersing yourself in nature, spending time with others, and even having an outing solo. Here, you can get away from it all.

As a team of scientists and nature enthusiasts helping to preserve San Diegan lands, including the San Elijo Lagoon, we welcome you to learn more – and visit soon.

Our vision is a world where everyone has a passion to connect with, experience, and protect nature.

Our mission is to drive a passion for nature, for all. We want our places and events to offer every human an experience and a deep connection with the living world.

Committed to Driving a Passion for Nature, for All


From education tours and field trips to volunteer opportunities, we offer a dynamic array of activities with a community – as well as trails where you can go solo and enjoy the peace.


With energy and determination, we work hard to conserve our lands. We know – and champion – the importance of opening the lagoon to the ocean, removing invasive plants, and more.


Thanks to our 20+ years of experience with the lagoon restoration, Nature Collective soon will be available for consulting with watershed restoration, education, and conservation projects.

An Award-Winning Organization


Our organization receives the Encinitas Excellence in Environmental
Stewardship Award.


Reviving Your Wetlands Lagoon Restoration is awarded Best Restored West Coast
Beach by the American Shore + Beach Preservation Association for Cardiff State Beach sand replenishment project.


John Muir Environmental Conservation Education Award is bestowed to Tara
Fuad, Education Director.


County of San Diego Parks + Recreation Champion Award Honors Barbara Wallach, Volunteer.


County of San Diego Parks + Recreation Community Team Member Award Honors Elayna Flanders, Education Manager.


Exec. Dir. + Principal Scientist Doug Gibson is honored by the County Supervisor, and mayors of Encinitas and Solana Beach with Doug Gibson Conservation Leadership Day for 20 years in conservation service.


Exec. Dir. Doug Gibson + Principal Scientist is awarded honor by Outdoor Outreach Lead the Way Award Honoree.


Our education program receives national recognition with a 2-year award by the US Environmental Protection Agency.


Our Habitat Restoration program wins a Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project Stewardship Award for Community Conservation.


San Diego Coastkeeper Water Wise Award honors our Habitat Restoration program.


June 19, 2012 is proclaimed Denise Stillinger Day by then-County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price District III.


Board President Denise Stillinger is named Cox Conserves Leader in San Diego.

  • Doug Gibson

    Executive Director | Principal Scientist

    Doug Gibson

    Executive Director | Principal Scientist

    Doug Gibson, a wetlands ecologist, is a champion of conservation in Southern California. He oversees Nature Collective’s nationally recognized science and community conservation programs. Doug is guiding to completion a $120 million environmental enhancement for the 1,000-acre San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, the Reviving Your Wetlands San Elijo Lagoon Restoration.

    Planning for this multi-year project was an early focus in Doug’s career vision to enhance estuarine tidal flows and habitats, while adding new trail connections linking coastal communities. Reviving Your Wetlands addresses climate change and sea level rise in the construction for enhanced mudflat habitat, and surrounding salt marsh and uplands, providing 1,000 plant and animal species refuge and places to spread out.

    Nature Collective is one of the reserve’s managing partners, at the table with County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation and California Department of Fish & Wildlife.

    In Doug’s vision to expand access to nature for everyone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded grant funding for science-based and integrated learning to inspire conservation behaviors in school and family program participants.

    Forty miles of streams have been restored in Doug’s leadership through the control of invasive plants. Nature Collective currently owns 143 acres and holds 70 acres of conservation easements on private and public property—while not huge in scale—are notable in densely developed coastal San Diego.

    Doug’s leadership extends into his scientific advisory roles. He is an active member in the national Restore America’s Estuaries conferences. Doug is on the board of California Invasive Plants Council and is chair of five coastal counties for Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project, among other regional conservation alliances.

    The City of Encinitas awarded Nature Collective an Environmental Excellence Award in 2018, recognizing Doug’s leadership for connecting communities and conserving nature. Honoring Doug’s 20th Anniversary in 2016, two city mayors and the County Supervisor proclaimed a Doug Gibson Conservation Leadership Day for his influence county-wide. California Department of Fish & Wildlife awarded Doug and team significant funding for native plant restoration in wetlands beyond the reserve’s borders in a Proposition 1 grant in 2017.

    Doug blends his extensive knowledge of coastal wetlands policy with scientific literacy and fundraising. He came to Nature Collective from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, where he directed field efforts for the Navy Homeporting Sand Replenishment Project. Prior to Nature Collective, his consulting firm, Gibson Monitoring, participated in the planning of large restoration projects in key San Diego County watersheds.

    Doug Gibson’s leadership in conservation and restoration sets a national standard for a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental design efficiencies, strategic collaborations, and with a style for excellence and trust in the long-range vision.

  • Jennifer Bright

    Development & Communications Director

    Jennifer Bright

    Development & Communications Director

    Jennifer Bright is an established leader in management and stewardship for nonprofit agencies. Her decades of experience bring style and excellence to Nature Collective’s community relations, brand management, philanthropy and the cultivation of leadership: including Board of Directors, President’s Circle and Legacy Circle for estate planning. She is the dream builder of the biennial gala for community and nature. Jennifer’s earlier career in nonprofit management focused on the development of community garden programs, community events and grant funding for under-served populations. Jennifer is currently working to become a Certified Fund Raising Executive and is a 2019 graduate of Leadership North County California State University San Marcos.

  • Jamie Consolo

    Development Associate

    Jamie Consolo

    Development Associate

    The inspiration behind Nature Collective’s visual media profiles, Jamie’s design thinking is integral to the development of awareness and engagement in membership. She is co-creator of community and stewardship event planning and for the biennial gala. Jamie holds a BA in Art from San Diego State University.

  • Sage Dunne

    Development + Outreach Coordinator

    Sage Dunne

    Development + Outreach Coordinator

    Sage is an emerging leader in philanthropy for community and nature. Sage is one of our voices in social media. She assists event planning for leadership circles and is resident photographer for community outreach. Sage holds a MS in Science Communication and Public Engagement from University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK, and a BS in Biological Sciences from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK.

  • Tara Fuad

    Education Director

    Tara Fuad

    Education Director

    Thousands of people participate in our nationally awarded school and public programs. Tara Fuad collaborates with school district leaders to support the implementation of California’s Next Generation Science Standards-aligned curriculum. Tara oversees strategic planning, grant writing, and partnerships with agencies, corporate and family foundations to increase engagement in outdoor learning and conservation. She designs, oversees, and conducts professional development training for Nature Collective educators, teachers at partnering school districts and pre-service teachers at Cal State San Marcos. She is the 2018 John Muir Environmental Conservation Education Award Recipient. She has dedicated her career to environmental education and conservation, beginning as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, W Africa in the 80’s. Tara holds a BA in Biology and Environmental Studies from Gustavus Adolphus College, and an MS in Biology and Environmental Policy from George Mason University.

  • Elayna Flanders

    Education Manager

    Elayna Flanders

    Education Manager

    From children exploring and making discoveries on the trails to all-ages tours and events, Elayna Flanders is at the center of engagement with nature discovery. Elayna oversees the daily operations of our school and community events. She stewards and trains the volunteer naturalist team and mentors Sage Environmental interns in career-shaping experiences. She also manages a high school conservation leadership program that engages students in activities focused on protecting watershed health. Elayna holds a BS and MS in Biology from California State University, San Marcos.

  • Debi Iannizzotto

    School Program Coordinator

    Debi Iannizzotto

    School Program Coordinator

    School teachers have a liaison to hands-on science learning with Nature Collective’s science-based school programs. Debi develops curriculum and provides professional development training with partner educators to make learning in nature a more integral part of the classroom, in-the-field and art experiences. She oversees our Get Out into Nature (GOIN’) program, providing students and their families with weekend adventures to explore and protect their watershed. Debi has over 30 years of elementary teaching experience she is a dedicated educator committed to creating educational opportunities that stimulate, encourage and support all students’ abilities to achieve at the highest of their potential academically, emotionally, and socially. Debi holds a BA in Physical Education from San Diego State University and an MA in Teaching Inquiry from Miami University

  • Tim Stillinger, PhD

    Scientific Research Director

    Tim Stillinger, PhD

    Scientific Research Director

    Working in the vision for healthier ecosystems, Tim is integral in the multi-disciplinary team responsible for ensuring San Elijo Lagoon Restoration is a success. Reviving Your Wetlands San Elijo Lagoon Restoration is a three-year project (2018-2020) restoring physical and biological functioning of the estuary and uplands. Tim designs and implement scientific monitoring protocols that track the health of the lagoon and nearshore marine environment. Tim is associate communicator in public forums for restoration. He is leading the first surfing study associated with a wetland restoration. Tim measures wave quality and the increase of tidal circulation and its impacts, if any, on surfing conditions at a world-renowned surf spot. As the surfing study suggests, restoration is also about preserving a way of life for people who love to be outdoors, in the ocean and on the trails. Tim holds a BS in Molecular Environmental Biology from UC Berkeley, a Master of Environmental Science and Management from UC Santa Barbara. He is a PhD Candidate at The Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara, where he studies remote sensing and water supply forecasting.

  • Erin Reilly

    Research Associate

    Erin Reilly

    Research Associate

    An Encinitas local, Erin has grown up surfing. She works with our Scientific Research Director analyzing the data collected as part of our San Elijo Lagoon Restoration surf study. Erin will soon be attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to study Environmental Management and Protection.

  • Bradley Nussbaum

    Habitat Management Director

    Bradley Nussbaum

    Habitat Management Director

    From paddling out to measure water quality to managing restoration projects, Bradley directs the Habitat Management Program for Nature Collective. Habitat management is core to restoring functional ecosystems. Bradley oversees the habitat restoration team and its projects. He engages with our regional partners and agencies and manages the water quality monitoring program. As a mentor, Bradley guides Sage Environmental interns to help them explore the possibilities in environmental careers. Bradley holds a BS in Optical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and an MDiv from Claremont School of Theology.

  • Scott Rothberg, PhD

    Environmental Planner

    Scott Rothberg, PhD

    Environmental Planner

    Using state-of-the-art constructed land use maps, we can visualize our present and future goals in conservation. Scott Rothberg, PhD provides database management and advances environmental responsibility in Nature Collective land use planning. His actions, as part of the Habitat Management Program, focus on improving geospatial resource inventories used in decision making. Scott’s leadership is assisting the Collective to better understand our land management strategies in the face of continuous development in Southern California. He holds a BS in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, MS in Urban and Regional Planning, and PhD in Design Construction and Planning.

  • Julie Simonsen

    Senior Ecologist

    Julie Simonsen

    Senior Ecologist

    Julie holds a BS in Biology with a focus in Environmental Biology from the University of California Irvine, and a MS in Ecology from San Diego State University. She has over 20 years of experience with managing and implementing environmental projects, and has spent the last 10 years focusing on habitat restoration in San Diego. Julie is an integral part of the Habitat Management team. Julie plans for and manages projects that support habitat restoration in San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, the Escondido Creek watershed, and throughout North County San Diego.

  • Alys Arenas

    Restoration Ecologist

    Alys Arenas

    Restoration Ecologist

    Conservation using GIS bridges the gap between scientists and community. Alys coordinates and executes mapping and database needs to support our Habitat Management Team’s conservation and restoration projects. She manages the Invasive Species Control, Habitat Restoration Program and the Land Stewardship and Community Habitat Restoration Program databases. Alys’ technical and analytical skills in GIS, cartography, remote sensing and geodatabase design are coupled with her passion for riparian and estuarine ecosystems. Her prior career includes work with Heal the Bay, Bolsa Chica Conservancy, Friends of the Colorado Lagoon, Los Cerritos Wetlands and the Huntington Beach wetlands. She holds a MS in Geographical Information Sciences from California State University, Long Beach.

  • Joe Dewolf

    Associate Biologist

    Joe Dewolf

    Associate Biologist

    Nature needs a helping hand, and Joe is there to improve the rare and specialized native habitats unique to Southern California. Joe oversees the Community Restoration Program, where volunteers restore native habitats. He manages the onsite Native Plant Nursery and its many volunteers who help collect seeds and grow thousands of native plants for restoration sites. He is a mentor for Sage Environmental interns, providing them real world experience in habitat restoration and native plant propagation. Joe holds a BA from San Diego State University.

  • Chris Lewis

    Finance + Administration Director

    Chris Lewis

    Finance + Administration Director

    Chris Lewis is an accomplished professional with experience in guiding small business and nonprofit administration and finance. He graduated from California State University San Marcos with a BS in Business Administration – Accounting. He is currently studying for the CPA exam.

  • Annette Ackema

    Administrative Assistant

    Annette Ackema

    Administrative Assistant

    Annette ensures the smooth administrative operations of the Nature Collective by implementing established systems, procedures + policies, human resource processes, and supporting the finance program. She holds a BA in Economics | Environmental Studies and Agroecology, and is specialized in Lean Six Sigma methodology.

Our History


Keeping lagoon water flowing freely was a priority in these early years. Quickly, the young organization began to attract more support + awareness. Growing an education program was also key, as awareness of the lagoon’s biodiversity brought more visitors.


Entering our 2nd decade, an endowment was secured so that the lagoon’s connection to the ocean would flow freely. Lands were secured through several major partnerships, establishing the conservancy’s role as a land trust + steward of the lagoon’s expanded habitat areas.


During its 3rd decade, our organization wins awards for leadership in conservation + education. As a land trust, enhancing open space is a priority. More than 40 miles of streams and 60 acres of rare coastal lands were conserved. Key parcels continue to be secured for the enhancement of wetland native habitats.


As we moved closer to 30 years, we developed our vision and the release of our Strategic Plan 2020. In late 2016, the California Coastal Commission issued our permit to restore + enhance San Elijo Lagoon. Harbaugh Seaside Trails will be restored for open space trails and views.

Learn More

An Oral History of
the San Elijo Lagoon

Efforts of the volunteers of the San Elijo Alliance + San Elijo Lagoon Foundation connect past preservation with present and future efforts to protect the lagoon. Today, the future of San Elijo Lagoon looks bright; however, it wasn’t always so.

History of the San Elijo
Ecological Reserve

Understand the past of San Elijo Lagoon, one of San Diego’s largest coastal wetlands. Did you know that Native American tribes hunted + gathered along the shores of the estuary at least 8,500 years before European settlers arrived?

Archeology at
Nature Collective

More than 50 prehistoric sites have been recorded in this area – and a number of these sites are major shell midden areas, scattered remains of seafood shells that indicate habitation.