Trace element concentrations (Pb, Cd, Mn, Fe, and Zn) were measured along four surface water transects across the continental shelf off Baja California, to evaluate the magnitude of heavy metal contamination in the coastal waters along the US-Mexican boundary. These initial measurements of trace elements in Mexican neritic waters revealed offshore concentration gradients, with the highest levels ... [Show full abstract] in coastal waters with high salinities and nutrient concentrations. There were also longshore gradients, with lower concentrations in the southern locations. Although the relative enrichment of metals detected at nearshore stations along the US-Mexican border appeared to correspond to wastewater discharges in that area, these trace metal enhancements were found to be primarily associated with physical oceanographic processes (upwelling and advection), rather than anthropogenic inputs. This was demonstrated both by metal-nutrient correlations and multivariate statistical analyses. Mass balance calculations also indicated that about 1% of Cd, 9% of Zn, and 29% of Pb were from urban discharges within the area.