Oil Spill In Southern Oaxaca

Spill threatens sea turtles and world-class surfing beaches

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.”