Oil Spill In Southern Oaxaca

Spill threatens sea turtles and world-class surfing beaches

| posted on September 17, 2012

A crowd gathers in Mexico City last Wednesday, protesting that it was time for Pemex to spill the truth. Photo: Wildcoast

Last week, 30 Oaxacan surfers and villagers gathered in Mexico City to protest a recent oil spill in Salina Cruz and demand that the company responsible begin an earnest cleanup effort.

More than a month ago, on Aug. 11, Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, inadvertently dumped an estimated 4,750 gallons of oil outside the port of Salina Cruz that reportedly went uncontained for 11 days and washed over 120 miles of coastline. It’s been reported that the spill occurred when a loading buoy—a machine used to transfer material onto tanker ships—sank out to sea off the coast of Salina Cruz.

The area affected by the spill, which is inhabited by the indigenous Chontal people, is renowned for its right-hand pointbreaks and is also an important nesting ground for the Olive Ridley sea turtle.

According to a recent report by Wildcoast, an international conservation team that preserves coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife, the oil spill has been responsible for the deaths of 50 Olive Ridley sea turtles in the area.

“The beaches of southern Oaxaca are Mexico’s most important for nesting Olive Ridley sea turtles and surfing tourism,” said Dr. Eduardo Najera, the Mexico Director for Wildcoast in a recent press release. “We are requesting that Mexican federal authorities investigate the cause of the spill and require Pemex to quickly and thoroughly clean up its mess.”

The spill has been said to have contaminated more than 20 beaches in the area, including: Salinas del Marqués, Brasil, Brasilito, Azul, Punta Conejo, La Escondida-Guelaguichi, Playa Cangrejo, and Chipehu.

The effected stretch of Oaxacan coastline is known for incredible barrels on south swells. Photo: Kurvin

In a statement co-authored by both Green Peace and Wildcoast, it was said that there have been more than 50 oil spills in Mexico this year alone.

“Pemex must be required to clean up and restore all of the ecosystems damaged by the oil spill to the fullest extent possible,” said Najera. “Indigenous communities, families, and businesses that make their living from fishing, surfing and eco-tourism must be compensated for their losses as a result of damage from the spill.”

With the help of environmental groups like Wildcoast and their protest efforts on Wednesday, the local villagers and surfers from Salina Cruz affected by the spill are making strides with the Mexican government.

“In addition to the protests outside of the Pemex Convention in Mexico City, we were able to help the locals set up a special meeting in the Mexican Senate to go over the spill and what efforts need to be taken to clean it up,” says Serge Dedina, executive director of Wildcoast. “Because of their meetings with the government, we got a call from Pemex saying that they now want to meet up with the locals from Salina Cruz to go discuss their concerns and ensure that 1) We get an independent evaluation on the spill to know exactly how bad it was 2) Pemex actually begins some real, professional clean-up operations and 3) They indemnify the locals affected by the spill.”

  • Tom

    This is karma for the stuff the local camp owners are trying to do. Forcing travelling surfers to hire surf guides for extortionate prices and having to pay $800 to take photographs down there!

  • Mike

    Yeah, probably not going to get a lot of help exposing their problems based on the relationship they’ve established with the surfing world. Maybe now is an opportunity to bring them back to the negotiating table.

    And though I support them 100% in this cleanup effort, good luck holding Pemex accountable. They have no leverage, only “pretty please.”

  • john


  • Serge Dedina

    Hi Mike and Tom:

    FYI–as stated in the article, hopefully we’ll meet with PEMEX this or next week. And we are being very realistic about the possibility of getting them to deal with this–but we don’t have any other choices. We appreciate the support! Please note that it is unusual for anyone to criticize PEMEX in Mexico and our media efforts hit them very hard on a national level when the spill happened and during our protests (Thanks also to Greenpeace-Mexico for this)

    And it is critical to note the fact that this issue of the oil spill had nothing to do with the surf camps and their owners. The Chontal leaders and communities involved here–who are the rightful owners/managers of the coast between Huatulco and Salina Cruz (except for some private ranches) have little to do with the surf camps. However they are the ones who have been most active in conservation efforts and are the communities Wildcoast and other agencies work with to protect the coast and local wildlife. And they are the people who have been most impacted by the spill.

    Serge Dedina, Ph.D.
    Executive Director
    Author of: Wild Sea

  • Mateo

    Mike and Tom-The only reason Salina Cruz in not crowded and over ran by stupid ass brazos is because of the locals. I have been going there for 15 years, and yes its way more crowded now than it was 15 years ago, but without the locals regulating, this would just be another Costa or Bali. I can respect where the locals come from and hope that they keep things the way they are. If you dont like to pay for uncrowded surf then F**ck off and go to Costa with all the kooks!

  • matt

    “Karma” for actions that in your opinion are unwarranted and unjust does not involve destruction of the local environment. Pull your head in, and maybe read up on Hindu philosophical concepts while you are at it.

  • Turff

    A real shame what happened down there with the oil spill. Almost as big a shame as the “locals” (there were only about 10 before they started charging for surfing down there) extorting money from people to surf. I used to camp at the restaurants close to some of the breaks and support local businesses. The surf “guides” have ruined those peoples’ business opportunities with their violent threats. Really sad and unfair what the surf camps are up to. Why won’t you post this, but will post Mateo’s violent threats.

  • brandon

    Thank God for those Salina Cruz surf camps!!! Not only do they keep the crowds out they keep out cheap, moronic people like Turff, Tom and John from surfing those great waves. How about you guys quit whining about “karma” (which is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard), go get a decent job and maybe, just maybe, you too can stay at a surf camp in Salina Cruz and surf the best waves in Mexico one day!!!!

  • Serge Dedina

    An update on the oil spill response–Mexico’s Federal Attorney General for the Environment (PROFEPA) has filed legal charges against PEMEX with Mexico’s Attorney General for the oil spill in Oaxaca. Mexico’s Senate passed a resolution condemning PEMEX for the spill, and we will meet with PEMEX this week.

    Second–the issue of surf camps and beach access is totally unrelated to this. But let’s make this clear–public access to the coast is a constitutional right in Mexico.

    Although some private property owners in Oaxaca can charge access to cross their property to access the beach, private surf companies do not have the right to determine who surfs the coast.

    In the case of the coast north of Salina Cruz, most of the coast is under the control/ownership of autonomous Chontal communities. While in Barra, surfers and other pay a 20 peso donation to the community to access the beach, this is a collective community managed process that has helped to improve the quality of life in town.

    In Mexico it is illegal for private companies to charge individuals “fees” to take photos or to determine who should or should not be on the beach based on their appearance or nationality.

    I have spent the last two months of June working and surfing (with my kids) in Oaxaca and would recommend that if anyone feels threatened at the beach they should immediately contact local authorities.

    At some beaches security is enforced by Mexico’s Navy–and they welcome friendly surfers –in fact during our walks down the beach to find waves, we stopped and talked to machine-gun toting Marines, Mexican National Park staff and local community residents–all of whom couldn’t have been nicer.

    We also made sure to give locals –most of whom don’t have cars-rides into town. Good karma goes a long way in Oaxaca.

    Serge Dedina, Ph.D.
    Executive Director