Move over Captain Planet, the environment has a new superhero — a mystery man in a silver mask known as El Hijo del Santo (Son of the Saint). Part of the popular Mexican wrestling tradition lucha libre (freestyle wrestling), El Hijo del Santo is the spokesperson for Wildcoast Costasalvaje, a nonprofit that protects coastal ecosystems and wildlife in the Americas. He takes his duty as environmental defender as seriously as the fights that have littered his 25-year wrestling career and that of his father (El Santo). Enemies of the ocean, beware.

“My sister heard that Wildcoast was looking for a kind of superhero to support their campaigns, and she thought of El Hijo del Santo straight away,” he says from the memorabilia-packed study of his Mexico City home. El Hijo keeps his identity a closely guarded secret, referring to himself only by his wrestling name and refusing to take off his silver mask.

Lucha libre, Mexico’s second-biggest spectator sport after soccer, is based on the age-old saga of good guys versus bad guys. Now, in a campaign launched in March 2007, the bad-guy wrestlers are portrayed as masked enemies of the sea with names like the Pirate, Sewage Man, and the Turtle Eater. El Hijo also pitches in with real conservation efforts: The wrestler recalls the “amazing” experience of visiting a whale sanctuary in San Ignacio where he handled the gentle giants. He’s also helped gather turtle eggs and carry recently hatched turtles safely to the sea. “I wanted to have contact with the animals and to feel the responsibility of protecting them,” he says.

In September 2007, El Hijo received the Hero of the Environment award from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California for his conservation work. “When he came to Monterey, more than 8,000 people turned out to see him,” says Fay Crevoshay, communications director at Wildcoast. “We couldn’t have asked for a better spokesperson.”

Those of us living unmasked lives may not have access to the same kinds of environmental work that El Hijo does, but the wrestler emphasizes that everyone can make a difference. “We all go to the beach occasionally, so it’s as simple as not leaving garbage behind,” he says. “Or if you are walking on the beach and you see an empty bottle, pick it up.”

If only defeating bad guys were that easy.

Story by Tara Fitzgerald. This article originally appeared in Plenty in February 2008. This story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008