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Water Pollution Plagues Mexico’s Scenic Pacific Coast

Tourists largely unaware that industrial pollution from rivers upstream is making them sick

Editor’s Note: Due to significant factual errors that undermined the core argument of the article, we have had to retract this story. We apologize for the errors.

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hoping to make a change
Us swimers outcasted!

By Lita vertiz calderon on Sat, July 04, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Everyone on this board has made valid points, both locals and foreigners. The problem is much more intertwined within Mexican history and politics and how that has impacted the country’s people and natural environment.

I have worked in Recreational and Drinking Water Protection in both local and national governments in Mexico and Canada, and I can tell you that there is a lot of truth in Justine’s article regarding Government mandates, regulations, enforcement, finances and relationships with multi-nationals.

It sounds like Sayulita community members are doing all the right things (knowledge, awareness, empowerement, stewardship, and action). I believe if they continued to keep informed on the water quality issues at both the local and national level, as well as the lobby/petition/fight the potential contamination sources of industries and agriculture, then just by sheer power in numbers and a tourist industry that looms in its destiny, a change can be made. I’m sure everyone agrees, the health of Mexico’s people and environment is the number one priority. Or should be.

I am an avid environmentalist and surfer, and hope that one day I can bring my children to see the beauty and warm spirit of sayulita.
Set in the philosophy of Toltec, try not to take anything personally. - Nothing other people do is because of you. If you are immune to the opinions of others you will not suffer from them.”

By Keri on Fri, January 16, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Dear Sayultia resident,
This is a blog, not a scientific report nor a full magazine article. I’m limited by word count. The purpose of the blog is to get you thinking and doing your own research. The fact that some American expats have spent so much time to disprove this theory and even contracted outsiders to defame and threaten me,  only makes the topic more interesting.
I understand it poses an economic threat to those with economic interests in the town but I also feel these people have a responsibility to be honest to tourist and buyers.
If you want the scientific information please click through to the related reports. They are linked into the article.
Here is a map that will clarifies how these rivers link to the Ocean in Nayarit to the major river systems of central Mexico.
Thanks again for your interest and I hope that people follow through with their own research and if there is another explanation for the state of the beaches, at least we get to it.

By justine on Tue, May 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Hola Justine,

With all due respect, I see that the piece you wrote above lacks the basis to be an accurate report of what is happening on the area or areas (not defined properly either) you are writing about.

It is missing:

-  A thorough analysis of documents such as lawsuits, legal documents, environmental reports, government reports, private entities reports.
-  Inclusion of data from public and private records over a specific time and place.
-  Investigation of techniques, scrutiny of processes by government and practices by business and their effects again, over a specific time period and a particular place.
-  A detailed research into the social and legal issues and consequences of both what you have found on the field and what you are to publish.
-  A detailed log of questionnaires/interviews to on-site public sources as well as to anonymous sources.
-  Utilization and clear publication of the investigative method you are using to deduct the information you have come upon through your investigation.
-  Overall it is a completely unfounded document with no basis in formal documentation.

As an attorney, and therefore a permanent student of rights and obligations, I would say that this would allow you to present a clear image of what you think you have found – maybe a totally different one. And in consequence, allow the responsible party for what you are pointing the finger to, to reply in its defense accordingly.

As a family man and a surfer that surfs 4-5 times a week ‘out front’ in Sayulita, year round, as I have been a resident here since December 1996, I think that you are absolutely wrong. I personally have never gotten sick by the water or fish here nor has my family. And we buy local fish and cook it at home 3-4 times a week.

Yes, Sayulita needs improvements because of its growth spur. We all know this. Every population cluster in this World needs improvements. The whole town, each part in its own way, is working on it: to attain the best environment possible. But, may I remind you, that is a Utopia, a piece of work always in progress.

I don’t think your written piece above, as good intentioned as it might be, is fair. It is bad press, unfounded and irresponsible.

Your fashion pieces (I read them) seem to show you are in search of a ‘good’ path. Great, just use a better investigation method to collect your information.


By Horacio on Tue, May 28, 2013 at 12:17 pm

The river is not the only poluted thing in Sayulita! My husband and I loved visiting Sayulita in previous years so we decided to make a day of it this year.
We were thoroughly disgusted with the garbage and mess on the beach. It was so bad we just packed up and left, going to a much cleaner beach down the coast. What a disappointment it has become.

By Jan Burrell on Sat, May 18, 2013 at 12:39 pm

I was really surprised to read that SEMARNAT announced all the beaches of Nayarit to be safe/clean. Sayulita at times smells bad and it is known that after a big rain, the river will wash all kinds of dirty stuff into the ocean.
SEMARNAT spent months on end testing the water at Chacala Beach, in order to finally award it the clean beach award. It seemed to be they took this very seriously and were not about to pass it until they were very sure.

By Lindy on Fri, May 17, 2013 at 2:49 pm

hello Justine

I’m going to tell you what I think of your article with my words, your Articles is a big shit !!!!! , have you made any levy of water to say this kind of thing? Or you are stopped at the testimony of our Australian surfer, who is this guy?? nobody know him !! I’d like your perspective of pseudo journalist savior of humanity, when you write an article you must be sure of your sources , I’m not sure on your. Yes there are certainly problems, but like everywhere else ......

  I invite you to share your statements at a meeting of Grupo Pro Sayulita if you want to help us.and not weaken our image of crossing told



By Nicolas kerveven on Fri, May 17, 2013 at 12:54 pm

To the people living in Nayarit, please note I mentioned many of the sustainable things you do and that you look after your immediate environment.

I wanted to expose the big picture outside of your environment that effects you. You can help put pressure on the government and industry inland.

Tourism, real estate and Mexico’s image matter, so you have some power and influence that the people inland don’t. Please try to focus on the solutions and not be offended.

It’s not your fault unless you know and choose to ignore it. Up until now, you didn’t know. Now you are talking, what will you do?

By justine on Fri, May 17, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Hola Justine
I am a San Pancho resident.
I met you during the few weeks you spent visiting Sayulita and San Pancho.
I try to find something positive out of your article, but I just can`t.
It is filled with wrong information, it is imprecise and it lies in the end.
I do not find us humans have the right to just go anywhere in the world to criticize and signal what is bad according to our own often narrow perspective. I cannot see how that action turns into something positive. Unless WE do something creative out of that.
My children, my wife and I, among many of my friends swim about every other day on the beaches you talk about.
And we love it. This is the earth we live in.
The oceans get dirty for many reason, some could be geographical and some due to the ignorance and abuse of mankind. What else is new.
(I bet anybody could find hundreds of mental diseases, bugs, germs and pollutants in every first class city or country in the world)
If somebody has the ability to inform, has been blessed with clear thinking and good information. That information should lead to better ways of living and not create fear only. Enough of that.
Mexico’s rate of ignorance is pretty high you might point out widely, but the good side of the story is:

This land, these peoples, (as many others on this one earth)
are bearers of a treasure, so sacred. subtle and profound, reserved only for fellow beings willing to praise that.

Amor y Paz para todos
Guillermo Abarca Corona

By Guillermo Abarca on Fri, May 17, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Hi there,
I just finished my third season in Sayulita. I worked as a surf instructor and was in the water everyday teaching or surfing. I am not a scientist but I am 100 percent sure some days that water is filthy! The stench coming from the river was out of this world, and any one living there saw the green slimy pond I am sure.

Locals and expats are aware of the problem and have worked on ways to fix it. Unfortunately, from what I have understood, we are working with a system that has so many pockets to fill that by the time the plan is made…...the money has seemed to trickle somewhere else….and not into that dirty river.

Regardless I love Sayulita and really hope we can improve the river and bacteria levels.


By Emma on Fri, May 17, 2013 at 12:07 pm

It is connected to the Santiago chain via the Huaynamota River (also known as the Jesus Maria River) in the rainy season. All the rivers and streams connect at that time in a complex network.

One paragraph on this was changed in the copy that went to print.

It should read “Local Mexicans also don’t eat fish caught from any place near WHEN the river meets the sea in the wet season.”

Mountain ranges don’t stop rivers, they help the water flow down to the sea. I don’t think foreign tourist are making local people sick in the rainy season or else every tropical tourist destination would have the same problem.

It’s not about your local water treatment system and I know the towns water is in houses and hotels is almost safe enough to drink. It’s what is happening elsewhere in Mexico.


By justine on Thu, May 16, 2013 at 10:03 pm

I think bringing to the table the very real issues of water pollution in this area is very important, and I enjoyed your research connecting the rivers from interior to coast. However, I think the emphasis on the foreigners being the ones in a haze about recognizing the pollution of the rivers and oceans in this area is incorrect. Many expats living in these towns are well aware of these issues and are working on creating solutions, if only ideas thrown around at community meetings. Even more incorrect about local Mexicans avoiding the ocean, because they are in the know about this pollution problem. If you ever are at the river mouth in Sayulita or the lagoon in San Pancho, you will see dozens of locals in these areas, as they are calmer waters and tend to be easier to access for swimming. Lets just say that ALL people need to be aware of these issues, instead of making your article so centered on the ignorance of the foreigner in a foreign land.

By Octavia on Thu, May 16, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Hi Justine,
I appreciate your concerns and this article. I live here full time. I do not swim, or surf in the ocean, because I do not trust it either way.
Some noted errors I feel compelled to point out.
1.The Sayulita river’s head waters are above a town called Guamuchil, very small and has a new treatment facility, San Quintin is next, very small, then San Ignacio, small too, and then on to Sayulita. It is not connected to the Santiago river chain.
2.San Fransisco river, on google earth, ( newly updated I see! ), cannot beconnected either. Mountain ranges are clearly visible to block this claim.
3. July is middle of LOW season, and when the river does begin to flow in the rainy season, stay out!
4. I ABSOLUTELY AGREE, the waters are not healthy, but are more so, when the flow stops. This does not mean, the water is bacteria free at all.
5. Unfortunately, I do not see, water treatment plants in the two towns before Sayulita. HORRIBLE.
6. SAYULITA DOES HAVE PLANS TO MOVE/UP GRADE THE TREATMENT FACILITY, IN the near future. A must. but the other 2 towns need something as well to finally reduce the problem to a more acceptable level.
7. Plane loads of people come to Sayulita, bringing sickness with them as well. Before high season, there is very little sickness. In the high season, BOOM! the locals get sick from this, more than the water, I assure you.
IN anycase, thank you for bringing this up! It is an issue for ALL of Mexico, particularly high tourist areas.

By tom McElhenney on Thu, May 16, 2013 at 1:00 pm

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