Mass of seaweed the size of Jamaica heading to Mexico’s pristine beaches

A mass of stinking seaweed the size of Jamaica is heading to Mexico’s most popular tourist beaches, ruining the usually pristine waters for holidaymakers.

The giant floating mass of sargassum algae, more than 340-miles long, is predicted to hit Mexico’s Caribbean shoreline this week, reaching the Yucatan peninsula’s coast and spreading as far south as Belize.

Mexico’s beaches, in particular Cancun and Tulum, are popular among British tourists looking for a cheap break with warm weather and crystal clear waters.

The sargassum has been affecting some of Mexico’s most popular beaches since 2011, but the arrival of the seaweed island, dubbed the “Sargasso stain”, in the next few days is a worrying escalation.

The massive explosion of algae has been caused by widespread deforestation in the Amazon and the intensive use of fertilisers which have fed nitrogen into the oceans.

A worker cleans the sargassum from El Recodo beach, mainly used by fishermen, affected by the algae, in Cancun, Mexico - Credit: Rex

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A worker cleans the sargassum from El Recodo beach, mainly used by fishermen, affected by the algae, in Cancun, Mexico Credit: Rex

The nitrogen, coupled with warmer oceans, has boosted the seaweed’s growth.  Environmentalists warn that the algae is a disaster for the area’s biodiversity.

While it serves as a habitat for marine life out at sea, once it hits the shore it dies and produces toxic gases and acid which leak back into the sea, damaging coral reefs and marine ecosystems.

Perhaps worse for tourists is the rotting egg smell the algae releases as it decays.

The floating island, estimated to weigh more than 200 fully loaded aircraft carriers, has been captured by NASA satellite images and is more than 340 miles in diameter and is about 620 miles east from the coast of Mexico’s Quintana Roo state.

Dr Chuanmin Hu, a marine scientist at the University of South Florida, has studied the algae’s growth. He warned that based on the last 20 years of data, the belt of algae “is very likely to be a new normal”.

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“The ocean’s chemistry must have changed in order for the blooms to get so out of hand,” he added.

Dr Woody Turner, manager of the Ecological Forecasting Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said: “The scale of these blooms is truly enormous, making global satellite imagery a good tool for detecting and tracking their dynamics through time.”

Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has deployed the country’s marine corps to tackle the algae but has also enraged local businesses by downplaying the issue.

Source: The Telegraph