Mexico tourism officials scrambled last week to counter charges
of dangerous levels of water pollution in many Pacific coast resort
A government study found unhealthy levels of water pollution in
16 bays, including Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Ensenada and Puerto
Escondido. Some swimmers have already reported intestinal problems
after swimming in the water, Jose Iturriaga of Mexico’s
environmental protection agency (PROFEPA) told Mexico City’s
However, tourism officials say the report doesn’t offer a
complete picture. “The pollution issues found in some beaches in
Mexico are not indicative of issues with the destinations as a
whole, but rather refer to pollution in a small number of beaches
in each destination,” the Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism (SECTUR)
said in a written statement released Feb. 12.
According to the study, water pollution levels in several of the
bays did not meet government standards for water used for
recreational purposes, primarily due to inadequate water treatment
The tourism agency emphasized that federal, state and municipal
officials “have been working together to implement measures that
will both protect and clean beaches to meet federal standards.” A
more detailed analysis of the study will be released in April,
according to the official statement. People familiar with the water
situation felt the report may have overstated the problem.
“I was a little surprised, because it’s not new information,”
said Dr. Saúl Guerrero, who has studied the waters around Puerto
Vallarta. “We are working on it.”
The report singled out Zihuatanejo as one of the worst polluted
bays. “Zihuatanejo bay has problems because its wastewater
treatment plant doesn’t have sufficient capacity,” Iturriaga told
Helmut Leins, owner of the Hotel Villa del Sol in Zihuatanejo,
said the report was misleading and “not true.”
Most of the pollution in Zihuatanejo is isolated to the area
around the village, he said. The bay, he noted, has a strong
current and regularly cleanses itself, keeping pollution away from
the tourist beaches of La Ropa and Las Gatas. “The village beach is
dirty, but not the tourist beaches,” Leins said.
Leins, the former head of the local hotel association, has been
working for years to help stem pollution problems in the area,
organizing beach clean-ups and lobbying the state for a new
wastewater treatment plant.
Soon after the water pollution report hit the newspapers,
government officials announced that federal financing had been
approved for a new water treatment plant in Zihuatanejo.
Environmentalists say that Mexico needs a national effort to
address the water treatment issues.
“When I read that people in boats are trying to manually pick up
trash, then I start to get a sense that no one is really working
the issue,” said Ellen Athas, director of the Clean Oceans Program
for the Ocean Conservancy, an international group based in
But Athas did see positive signs in the recent study.
“The fact that they’re testing beach water is a positive thing,”
she said. “It’s the first step in making progress toward cleaning