Written by Anna Lucia Lopez*

I am a resident of Playas de Tijuana. I studied tourism and law at the Autonomous University of Southern California, Tijuana (UABC) with the ultimate goal of helping people. My clean water story started in 2005 when I fractured my pubic bone during a track and field training session. I had to stop running. Swimming was recommended for my recovery. I was 25 years old and learned how to swim! The frustration over not being able to run led me to enroll in lifeguard training in Tijuana. That is when my clean water story began.

I saw my injury and recovery as an opportunity to face my own frustration and fears in life. Since childhood I had been told that the sea was dangerous. I recovered quickly.  During my first lifeguard duties I felt like I was adding value. I could help people, prevent drownings and educate the youth. That’s when I saw the problems on my beach: children and adults with little water safety education; indifference to beach preservation; plastic pollution on beaches; poor beach water quality – all in an environment that had so much to offer.

I realized that it was time for a career change. After 6 months of lifeguard  training and duty I resigned from my job at my law firm and became a lifeguard to help my community. There have been ups and downs along the way and I have even received a few awards too. In 2009 and 2011 I received the Tijuana Woman of the Year award and the Female Millennial award by the Tijuana City Council Gender Equality Commission. I no longer work as a lifeguard but I am fully dedicated to the protection of our oceans and aquatic education. 

I have dedicated the last 13 years to healthy beaches and beach preservation activities such as beach clean-ups, water quality sampling, coordination of aquatic recreational activities. This is my 7th year spearheading a summer junior lifeguard camp with Out of the Boat Swim for local children and those from children’s homes such as EUNIME, Ninos de la Promesa y Red Binacional de Corazones. The camp runs in Playas de Tijuana. Helping me in this effort I have a group of 40 volunteer surfers, swimmers, firefighters, paramedics, psychologists, biologists, medical professionals, lifeguards and students.

It is sad not to be able to enjoy the sea when the water is polluted. This is becoming more common where I live. But it is sadder for a child to be denied the opportunity to surf, swim and enjoy the sea due to pollution. It is also sad when I come across dead marine life and wonder if its demise was caused by the ingestion of plastics or poor water quality.  

The ocean found me and gave me the opportunity to feel a freedom and connection with the natural world around me. It is my refuge and I strive every day to transmit this feeling to children. It saddens me to see people polluting and disrespecting the beach. However, I know that I am part of the solution. Along with other clean water advocates who continue to inspire me I will continue to defend the ocean.

*#mycleanh2ostory is written by local activists who are fighting for clean water.