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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Trouble on the Mexican Riveria

Air Date: Week of

Kent Patterson reports on the environmental impact of unchecked tourist development and population growth around the Mexican resort of Acapulco, and the growing citizens’ movement to deal with the problems.


CURWOOD: When tourists think of Acapulco or Puerto Vallarta, they usually visualize white beaches, sparkling resorts, and fresh ocean breezes. But many locals think of something else. Decades of tourist development and population growth in the so-called Mexican Riviera are causing severe problems. Kent Patterson reports on efforts to rescue one of the world's most famous coastlines.

(Spilling into water)

PATTERSON: Raw sewage spills from a pipe into a lagoon that flows into Zewateneho Bay. A half-finished marina looms over the polluted swamp.

CANJALES: [Speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Margarito Canjales is a long-time fisherman from Zewateneho Bay. He blames the sewage and other forms of pollution for killing fish and shellfish in the lagoon, once an important breeding ground for the bay's marine line.

(Several men speak)

PATTERSON: On a third-story patio overlooking the bay, members of the newly-formed Movement for the Defense and Protection of Zewateneho Bay hold a meeting. Anita, who doesn't want her last name used, arrived in Zewateneho 40 years ago.

ANITA: We used to go and find lobsters right down on the beach, and we had all kinds of clams. All kinds of clams we had. And lobster, they would say hey, which one you want today? They could go and pick up the lobster right on the rocks. That was 40 years ago. And now you just don't find nothing any more. The beaches were full of little birds catching all kinds of little crabs and stuff. You don't see them any more. We had the mangrove here, which was full of cranes that looked beautiful, like roses in the evening when they would come and sleep on the mangrove trees, and it was lovely.

PATTERSON: A 1996 study by the Mexican navy's Pacific Oceanographic Institute warned that the bay's waters were not safe for fishing or swimming. Some now say the pollution is threatening the mainstay of the local economy in both Zewateneho and nearby Ixtapa: tourism. Fitca Langhost runs a popular hotel with her Mexican husband Javier.

CALANKOS: Every year there's more. The water is kind of muddy, and some people came out at certain times of the year. They come out and they're covered in rashes, so it is getting worse, definitely. If the contamination continues, tourism will definitely go further back. They see a decrease in occupancy rates here in the hotels in Zewanteneho and Ixtapa. It's kind of a twin situation here. I mean, Ixtapa cannot survive without Zewateneho. Zewanteneho cannot survive without the bay.

(A man speaks in a large, echoing room)

PATTERSON: Fed up with the pollution, Anita and Langhost and thousands of others are attending meetings and signing petitions demanding that their bay be cleaned up. And already they are claiming victories. A protest against a stone jetty residents blame for aggravating the bay's contamination paid off. The Mexican government ordered the structure dismantled late last year.

RIOS: [speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Amago Rios is a government biologist. He says he's recently noticed an important shift in the public mood.

RIOS: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: I'm from the coast here in the state of Guerrero. I know about the environmental problems, the pollution in Acapulco, Ixtapa, and Zewateneho. What surprises me is how the people are worried and are getting involved in these problems. They want to participate in deciding how to resolve them.

PATTERSON: For the first time, large numbers of people are taking to the streets to protest pollution. Like here, for example, in Petecaco Bay.

(Bird calls)

PATTERSON: About one hour north of Zewateneho, farmer Arasmo Lopez runs his finger through a mango leaf in this coastal orchard. He then shows a black ash-like residue he says falls from the smokestacks of the Petecaco power plant right across the street.

LOPEZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: Because of this, our production doesn't have a market. Nobody wants black mangoes. I think mangoes are supposed to be red. They sell in the market because of their pretty reddish and yellowish appearance.

PATTERSON: Lopez and other farmers charge that the emissions from the petroleum-fired thermoelectric are ruining their crops, making the people sick, and killing off marine life. Mexico's Federal Electricity Commission did not return calls seeking comment.


PATTERSON: Meanwhile, efforts to clean up Zewateneho Bay are showing signs of progress. Three million dollars in new state money is earmarked this year to improve sewage treatment. Yet the challenges are immense. Some estimate that it will cost more than $100 million to thoroughly cleanse the waters. Long-time resident and activist Anita says the money must be found.

ANITA: I feel sorry for the bay, and I wish it will come back. That's why we have started this movement. We want it to go back to what it was. To create consciousness with the people, that they have to see. Because if the bay goes, we all go. That's the end of us. All of us.

(Adult's and children's voices in the background)

PATTERSON: For Living on Earth, I'm Kent Patterson reporting.



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