It is back and smellier than ever. Sargassum season is in full swing for Costa Maya in 2018 and it is piling up along our shores.
Tourists run from it because when it starts to decay it smells like what I would imagine the early morning bathroom of a hungover whale shark on a Caribbean bachelor party would smell like. Locals dread it because it means early morning and late night shifts on the beaches along the malecon shoveling endless piles of it into wheel barrows to be carted off during by lumbering garbage trucks in the night.
It is a topic that is getting a lot of attention in the small pueblo of Mahahual as well as the rest of the Caribbean Coast of Mexico…
Sargassum is a type of sea algae that grows naturally in the Atlantic ocean and Caribbean Sea. The species that wash ashore are rootless, blooming and floating freely in the ocean until winds and tides bring it to shore. It has always been around, first described by early European explorers who dubbed one region of the Atlantic off the eastern coast of the U.S. the “Sargasso Sea” for its copious quantities in that area.
It serves a variety of positive ecological functions like providing a nursery for sea turtles, a home habitat to different marine creatures like the Sargassum Fish, shrimp and crabs, birds and whales, a food source for a number of little creatures once it lands on shore, and protects against shore erosion.
The problem is that since 2011 it has been amassing in record numbers every year on some of the Caribbean Sea’s most beloved tourist destinations, including Costa Maya. Locals see it as a nuisance and are at a loss about what to do about it.
Apparently, however, there may be a silver lining. Sargassum, it turns out, may be useful. Powdered sargassum has been an herbal remedy in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, indicated for problems like goiters and thyroid issues due to its high iodine content. In Bermuda it is placed under banana trees as a source of fertilizer. Still others claim its phytochemical, vitamin and mineral content as just as robust as other sea weeds commonly eaten in other parts of the world. Yum! Take a bite…
Nobody knows for sure why the sargassum problem grows each year but some suggest it is due to rising sea temperatures, changes in sea currents due to climate change and some attribute it to agricultural fertilizer run-off into the ocean causing more of the algae to bloom.
Either way, we have a stinky problem on our hands again for 2018 and we need to start looking for a way to turn a lemon into lemonade. This sargassum can be continue to be a curse, or we could turn it into a blessing.
You never know, the next time you visit you might sit down to a nice plate of fried grouper on a bed of sargassum salad!