Potentially High Levels Of Sargassum Prompts Early Action

Cancun and Quintana Roo as a whole have begun preparations for dealing with the arrival of seaweed (sargassum) in the region. The decision to start earlier than usual is predicated by potentially high amounts of the vacation-ruining seaweed.

According to the Quintana Roo government website, prevention methods are set to be deployed in early March. The Navy and other local organizations will be involved in the project.

Heading up the “Strategy for the Attention of Sargassum” is Navy Admiral Alejandro Lopez Zenteno who explained that preparation has been ongoing since the end of the previous sargassum season to allow for full readiness.

Tulum, Mexico – 11 August 2018: A man is cleaning Sargassum seaweed from the beach.

He stated, “Since last November, at the close of the 2021 season, all equipment and tools have undergone maintenance. The coastal boats were concentrated in the Chetumal operations center, the sargassum ship “Natans” was transferred to the Coatzacoalcos shipyard, and the booms were subjected to washing, change of hardware, review of the skirts, among other works.”

Sargassum, for those unaware, is a brown seaweed that floats in gigantic island-like masses across the ocean. It never attaches to the seafloor, so currents inevitably drag huge amounts to the coast. Some will float in the shallows, posing a safety concern for visitors swimming around it. Reports suggest some get their feet tangled increasing the likelihood of drowning. Although this is rare, the threat remains, especially for children.

Underwater shot of large clumps of sargassum seaweed floating over a reef in the Caribbean Sea on Isla Mujeres, Mexico

In reality, the biggest problem it creates is a poor experience on Mexico’s beaches. The masses of brown seaweed can produce an unpleasant smell and can tarnish the stunning appearance of Cancun’s pristine beaches. Visitors arriving to find beaches filled with seaweed will often avoid them completely and often choose not to return out of fear of another ruined holiday.

Riviera Maya, Mexico – July 27, 2018. Mexican male worker shows a wheel barrow full of problem Sargassum seaweed as he cleans up a beach on the caribbean coast in Mexico.

Cancun battles the problem every year, going as far as to send reconnaissance flights across the surrounding sea to identify any potential clusters of the sargassum. Specialized boats are often sent out to collect the sargassum before it makes it way to the coastline, but higher amounts make the collection a challenge for even the most organized of projects.

Playa del Carmen is already seeing some deposits due to the geographical location and some stronger wind. The authorities were quick to react to the situation and most visitors didn’t feel much of an impact on their trip.

Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico, June 12, 2020.- Workers clean sargassum on a beach in Cancun, the sargassum stain can be seen from the air.

Most of Cancun’s beaches have tractors and collection points ready to collect any that gets through any of the protective installations in the water. These are particularly important after stormy weather when boats have been unable to venture out, and stronger currents pull even more inland.

Sargassum thrives in warmer months, so March, April, May, and June are typically when the heaviest deposits are seen in the Mexican Caribbean. It is thought that global warming is impacting the steady increase in the amount of sargassum arriving each year, and earlier appearances are becoming more and more frequent.

Tulum, Mexico – 12 August 2018: workers are removing Sargassum seaweed from the beach at Playa Paraiso with a Barber Surf Rake Beach Cleaner.

Suggestions from NASA are that there is a strong possibility of high amounts this year, so tourists should keep on top of the news surrounding deposits. The government is doing what it can to prevent heavy arrivals, but it is still likely that there will be some left on the beaches.

Another study from the University of South Florida saw an increase of 100% in sargassum between December and January, marking a faster than usual increase. The scientists there are forecasting potentially high rates for this year. Evidence such as this has prompted the early action.

Tulum, Mexico – 5 August 2018: workers are loading Sargassum seaweed into a truck at Playa Paraiso.

Cancun is having an incredible year and will not want any of its new markets to have a bad experience on its beaches. Again, those intending to travel should check in on the levels before arriving if there is a fear of it affecting their trip.

Source: thecancunsun.com February 11th, 2022