Huge amounts of brown seaweed washing up on the white sandy beaches of Quintana Roo continue to present a challenge to local authorities, who said Monday they are increasing their efforts to remove it.
Those removal efforts are being carried out from Isla Holbox down to Tulum, said Gov. Roberto Borge, but the process is not simple: authorities are concerned it will disturb sea turtles returning to the beaches to the lay their eggs, and the tourists for whom the beaches are the main attraction.
The seaweed is sargassum, which originates from the Sargasso Sea in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. It has been arriving since late March if not earlier, when tonnes of it washed up on some 10 kilometers of Cancún beaches.
A visitor from Venezuela, a big fan of those beaches, was absolutely dissapointed to arrive on holiday at the time and find those beaches full of seaweed. María Luisa Maldonado’s dismay worsened when she came out of the water covered in bug bites.
“It looks ugly and stinks of rotting fish,” she said.
It also provides a home for sand fleas that can bite a person several times and leave itchy welts on the skin.
While federal tourism and environment secretariats have committed resources to clean the beaches manually with a temporary employment program, hotel owners are trying another route.
The Hotel Owners of Cancún and Puerto Morelos have signed an agreement with the University of Texas, which will carry out satellite monitoring of the seaweed, identifying where it is, its volume and where it is going.
With that information they hope the sargassum can be gathered by boats before it hits the beaches and relocated in areas where its presence is normal.
Other possible strategies are creating dunes by covering it in sand and encouraging the growth of vegetation natural to the area, a practice reportedly carried out in the U.S.
Another is to bury it in the sand as is done in Florida, a process that converts the seaweed to sand over the course of two or three weeks. The problem with that method is that Cancun’s attractive white sand becomes discolored by the dark colored sargassum.
One area hotel is creating fertilizer from the seaweed, which is yet another option.
Sargassum is commonly seen on many beaches of the northern Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast of the U.S., according to a report by Riviera Maya News. But in 2011 it began appearing in places where it was not common, possibly because of higher temperatures and less wind.
Seaweed coming ashore on beaches along the islands of Trinidad and Tobago
Tobago’s Division of Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment began removing sargassum from 16 beaches in early May, but officials admit their efforts were futile as the seaweed simply continued to wash ashore during the months of June and July.
There have been many dramatic changes to the environment in recent years. The results of this dramatic climate change appears to be a factor in the reason for the explosion in sargassum. This means the seaweed-covered beaches from Texas to Tobago could be the new norm, a major inconvenience for beachgoers and a potential economic disaster for tourism industries
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