The Tijuana River Valley is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and a NOAA National Estuarine Research Reserve. This coastal and marine ecosystem provides critical habitat for more than 300 species of birds, leopard sharks, bottlenose dolphins, gray whales, and California spiny lobster. It’s an important recreational, coastal, and economic resource for communities on both sides of the US-MEX border.

Aerial Photo of Tijuana River Mouth State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) which borders Imperial Beach and the Mexican Border. Photo by Phillip Colla

Unfortunately, this coastal habitat and the health of border communities are under threat from toxic runoff including Baja California’s sewage, plastic debris and California-generated waste tires.

Tijuana’s unregulated urban sprawl and limited trash collection, especially in the city’s steep canyons, produces a tsunami of trash and sediment that drains into the Tijuana River basin, impacting San Diego, and eventually makes its way to the Pacific Ocean. 

Trash Boom Aerial Image. Photo Credit: Unknown

Plastics, waste tires, and large debris blanket coastal ecosystems and impact more than six local, state and federal protected areas. They clog sewage collection systems, exacerbate flooding, and are vectors for mosquito-borne diseases, including yellow fever and dengue. 

A sea of plastic intercepted by the trash boom. Image: WILDCOAST


Conservation knows no boundaries. 

In order to stop the debris from spilling into the ocean, WILDCOAST, in January 2021, installed the first ever solid waste retention system (trash boom) in Mexico, located in Los Laureles Canyon, a tributary stream of the Tijuana River in Tijuana, B.C. 


Trash Boom in Los Laureles, Tijuana, B.C. Photo Credit: WILDCOAST

Los Laureles canyon is home to about 65,000 residents who generate around 54,740 tons of solid waste per day. Less than two percent of that waste is collected by Tijuana’s Public Services Agency; the remaining is abandoned by residents on the banks of the tributary. Seasonal rains create a strong stream flow that carries that waste to the sea.

The trash boom has already prevented 33,000 kg (72,752.547 lbs) of solid waste from entering the Tijuana Estuary + the ocean…and counting. WILDCOAST has employed local residents to sort the waste to be reused and recycled, preventing most of it from reaching the landfill. WILDCOAST also collects data on the sorted trash and keeps records of the brands to use in future conservation strategies. Approximately 93% of the waste captured is plastic and tires. 

Categorizing plastics. Image: Leah Hays

A Park from Waste Tires

In order to showcase the possibilities of repurposing waste for community enhancement, WILDCOAST reused waste tires collected in the trash boom to build a park for the underserved community of Los Laureles. After the inauguration of the park, the community excitedly formed a committee, called “Las Guardianas del Parque” (The Guardians of the Park) to care for it. The media covered the event extensively and kids started enjoying the new playground equipment immediately. 

“We never asked WILDCOAST for anything and they have given us so much,’ said Señora Rosario, a community leader, who was visibly emotional during the inauguration. 

In conjunction with the trashboom and new park, WILDCOAST invited Members of the NGO “Influence the World” to visit Los Laureles on a mission of goodwill. The group donated fifteen computers to Los Laureles’ elementary school and built a small soccer field for the community to everyone’s delight.

Community Park in Los Laureles. Image by: Efrain Olachea via WILDCOAST

In conjunction with the trashboom and new park, WILDCOAST invited Members of the NGO “Influence the World” to visit Los Laureles on a mission of goodwill. The group donated fifteen computers to Los Laureles’ elementary school and built a small soccer field for the community. 


WILDCOAST’s Border Coordinator, Rosario Norzagaray, plays a game of soccer with local youth in the newly installed soccer field, part of the community park we built in Los Laureles. Photo: Leah Hays

WILDCOAST has also organized community networks to help collect plastic in the canyon’s neighborhoods in effort to reduce the amount of waste that reaches the trash boom when it rains. We compensate people for each kilogram of plastic they bring to recycle, creating income opportunities for families in the impoverished area of Los Laureles.  

Recycling is a big challenge in the north of Mexico. We are finding that there are no recyclers, they are all collecting  plastic, and then they send it to central Mexico to recycle,” said Rosario Norzagaraz, WILDCOAST Border Manager. “We are looking for local solutions,” she added.

WILDCOAST has ongoing outreach and communication campaigns, such as the #bajalealplastico campaign that promotes reducing single-use plastic consumption, and recycling efforts. We also provide continuing education programs for local communities in Los Laureles. 

Photo by: Leah Hays

Next Steps:

WILDCOAST plans to install two new trash booms in the communities of Camino Verde and Matadero Canyon, both tributaries also feed into the Tijuana River Valley and onward to the Pacific Ocean. These future trash booms will help reduce an additional 35% of Tijuana’s plastics from reaching the Pacific Ocean. 

But we need your support!

Our Los Laureles Family. Photo: Leah Hays

Help us tackle the tsunami of trash at the US/Mexico border to keep our oceans plastic-free. Wildlife and our communities deserve clean and healthy water and a beautiful coastal ecosystem.   

Donate Today. 


WILDCOAST is an international team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and addresses climate change through natural solutions. Founded in 2000 and with offices in California and Mexico, WILDCOAST carries out its mission through three strategies: 1) Establish and manage protected areas; 2) Advance conservation policies; and 3) Engage local communities as conservation stewards. In total, WILDCOAST has helped conserve 31.9 million acres of coastal and marine ecosystems. We are a voice for the ocean and coastlines and committed to preserving, restoring and protecting ecologically sensitive and globally significant coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife for future generations.