A closed beach from Tijuana sewage contamination on Aug. 4, 2022. / MacKenzie Elmer
A closed beach from Tijuana sewage contamination on Aug. 4, 2022. / MacKenzie Elmer

The ocean is closed to Coronado beachgoers after sewage from Tijuana spilled into the Pacific Ocean at the U.S.-Mexico border and made its way there Tuesday evening.

By Thursday afternoon, the Barnett family, vacationing from Denver, passed the yellow “keep out, sewage contaminated water” signs lining the popular beach at Hotel Del Coronado, before doubling back to take a closer look.

Still dry and wrapped in a huge towel, 11-year-old Augustus Barnett said he was “grossed out” when he saw that sign, but still wanted to swim in the waves.

“There’s all these people here but there’s this sign, so are you supposed to swim or are you not,” said Julie Barnett, Augustus’ mother.

At least one Coronado lifeguard truck patrolled the beach, yet beachgoers still frolicked in the waves up and down the coast.

Coronado Fire Chief Mike Blood, who oversees both fire and lifeguard services, said the department has limited staff but lifeguards try to contact anyone going in the water.

“Sometimes they heed the advice and won’t go in the water, and other times they don’t care and go in anyway,” Blood said.

Water quality tests taken Wednesday with the County of San Diego’s new, more sensitive technology showed bacteria levels at Coronado’s beaches were about 24 percent higher than public health standards permit. Water quality tests alone don’t close beaches, according to the county. It takes a combination of that plus southern ocean swells pushing water northward from the border and a known or reported sewage spill – like the recent one from Tijuana.

Blood said his department notified the county of discolored water and a southern swell before they even received the test results.

“This is all relatively new, the whole system changed in July, so we’re trying to be proactive and deal with it as best we can,” Blood said.

Bryan Nielsen, vacationing with his family from Omaha, Nebraska stood dripping by the shore, saying he didn’t even notice the yellow signs in the sand.

“I would have gone in either way,” Nielsen said. “I’m not worried about contamination. My kids don’t ever get to see the ocean. … We take risks every day.”

Nick Vincenti from Los Angeles monitored a group of kids building a sandcastle where the waves lapped the shore in front of the Hotel Del Coronado. The sewage contamination was news to him, too – he didn’t notice the signs, but wiped sand from one of the children’s faces upon learning of the pollution.

“I don’t want to come out of the water with a third eye,” he said.

Though sitting just a stone’s throw from the closure signs, Paula Menegotto of San Diego said she didn’t notice the signs either, adding she thought they should be bigger or in more places.

John and Kate Lansing, also from Denver, paused by the sign to get a better look on their way to enjoy the beach during the last day of their vacation.

 “Just a big bright yellow sign saying, ‘this is scary,’ isn’t really helpful,” Lansing said.

He compared confusion over the beach signs to the height of the pandemic when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control bungled communication over the virus and a testing rollout.

 “For me, this is a continued trend of the past couple years. You have to get your own information,” Lansing said. “I want to hear what the science says but once it goes through the filter of public policy… it’s individuals have to make the decision. The responsibility is always on us.”

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