It was the idyllic beach that Andy Dufresne painstakingly chiselled his way out of prison and crawled through sewage for in the film Shawshank Redemption.
However, the waters off the Mexican resort of Zihuatanejo have now themselves been declared a public health risk.
Tests showed the area’s water contains almost double the amount of dangerous bacteria declared safe for swimming under Mexican ministry of health regulations.
“People who swim regularly here develop skin problems,” Benjamin Armenta, a local businessman, told La Reforma newspaper. “It’s worse now than ever before, something has to be done about it as it’s bad for the town”.
The Las Salinas lagoon, a large sea inlet that sustains the community’s fishing and tourism industries, is now brown in colour due to the dumping of waste from the village.
“I’ve developed ulcers, rashes and long-lasting scars”, said José Ángel Velasquez, a local fisherman who is forced to push his boat into harbour on foot through the waters every day. “I’ve got infections in my feet that I can’t get rid of, and if I accidentally cut myself and the water gets in I’m out of action for a week”.
Dufresne, a fictional character played by Tim Robbins in the film adaptation of the Stephen King novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, spends 19 years tunnelling out of prison after being falsely convicted of murder.
He crawls through a sewer pipe for 500 yards before emerging into a river, where, in the film’s signature image, he rips his shirt off in the rain before making his way to Zihuatanejo to begin a new life.
The announcement of pollution at Zihuatanejo comes ahead of next week’s nationwide Easter holidays, when hordes of tourists descend on the country’s Pacific coast
“The water here gave me conjunctivitis” said Luis Pelayo, a diving instructor. “I’ve worked all along the Pacific coast and it’s never happened to me anywhere else.
“You can tell in the evenings who has been in the water during the day as they all have red eyes”.
Local authorities claim that since 1992 millions of dollars have been spent on treating the waters of the lagoon and surrounding plant life.
“Local people dump oil, grease and other waste into the lagoon and think it won’t have an effect”, a local government spokesman told La Reforma. “But it sets us back a lot, we need to educate the local people as to proper waste disposal”.
“The lagoon smells awful”, one Canadian tourist said while holding his nose. “I booked to come here but tomorrow I’ll be moving further along the coast to where it doesn’t stink.”