IMAGE: MEXICAN WRESTLER IN BOAT
David Maung  /  AP
Mexican wrestler "Hijo del Santo" points toward a gray whale in the distance while touring San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California on March 21.
updated 3/27/2007 4:42:32 PM ET 2007-03-27T20:42:32

Mexican wrestling star El Hijo del Santo has picked a new fight — this time on behalf of Baja California's environment.

Working with the environmental nonprofit group Wildcoast, the masked professional wrestler last week toured the Tijuana slum of Canyon de los Laureles. Garbage and sewage from the slum tumble into the Tijuana river, which separates the border between Mexico and the United States.

"For me, it's a pleasure to kick off this campaign with Wildcoast and use my persona to spread the message of caring for our seas and environment to the authorities and the people," he said before heading south to the village of San Ignacio.

Professional wrestling, known as lucha libre, is wildly popular in Mexico, where top performers become household names.

His tight schedule kept him from getting into the ring, but El Hijo del Santo — the son of legendary Mexican wrestler El Santo, or The Saint — said he plans to return to San Ignacio at a still undisclosed date to face off with a group of wrestlers disguised as environmental enemies "the Pirate who Robbed Turtle Eggs" and "SewageMan."

Eggs from endangered sea turtles are often stolen in Mexico because they are believed to be an aphrodisiac.

A Wildcoast study found that three-fourths of the people who regularly swim in the ocean near the border cities of Tijuana or San Diego have suffered some kind of health problem, including intestinal and skin diseases.

Coastal contamination also threatens marine life and local vegetation on both sides of the border.

IMAGE: CHILDREN LISTEN TO WRESTLER
David Maung  /  AP
Six-year-old Daniel Morales, center, listens intently with others from his school near San Ignacio Lagoon as Mexican wrestler "Hijo del Santo" talks about protecting the environment on March 21.
"All of the sediment and trash that accumulates here naturally runs toward the river and the canyons," said Oscar Romo, a coastal training director with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Wildcoast says it plans to build a small water treatment plant in Tijuana and take other steps to prevent runoff from contaminating the ocean.

During his visit to San Ignacio, El Hijo del Santo also visited the local lagoon, where hundreds of gray whales mate and give birth. While the lagoon has remained mostly free of contaminants, global warming has reduced the lagoon's food supply, according to Wildcoast spokeswoman Fay Crevoshay.

"The gray whale ... is like the canary in the mine," she said. "When the whales begin to be affected, that means we are next."

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