At first it was “here comes sargassum season again. Break out the nose plugs. It will be over in a few weeks”, then “this is a long season but it has been like this since 2011, it will be over soon” and lately as the sargassum keeps rolling in at a furious pace it is more like “when is it going to end??”. This sargassum season is perhaps the worst on record, and the Mexican Federal, State and local governments have decided to act.
The sargassum that is choking out the local beaches is hurting tourism and marine ecology due to the shear scale, and has prompted officials to act. Rafael Pacchiano Alaman, the head of Semarnat, the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources, has declared that the federal government has preliminarily released $62 million pesos to study and deal with the issue in Quintana Roo.
Locals want the sargassum gone but are also concerned that methods of blocking and collection, both at sea and on shore, may have some undesirable consequences, such as netting marine species, digging up turtles nests, and carrying away beach sand. But Pacchiano Alamán indicated that the measures being put forward do not affect the marine fauna because there are very specific guidelines on how to contain sargassum.
Left alone, sargassum in these amounts can trap and kill baby sea turtles, baby dolphins and other species, such as has occurred this year in Barbados. In addition to that, the heavy amounts of rotting seaweed in enclosed bays such like we have here in Mahahual can reduce oxygen levels temporarily, stressing and killing corals, sea grass, fish, sponges and other marine life.
The measures taken by the government are imperative as the caribbean is bracing for what could be the mother of all seaweed invasions, with satellite observations showing record setting blooms and beaches all over the caribbean drowning in rotting brown plants. The Barbados government declared a national emergency on 7 June.
Scientists are saying that the source of the sargassum since 2011 has been the tropical area off of the norther coast of Brasil, not the sargassum sea, as it was originally thought. Satellite imagery is showing that this year’s bloom is bigger than any that have been observed before, which explains the massive proliferation and extended season. See this article for a more detailed explanation.
Nobody really knows what is causing the massive blooms in recent years. Experts in many countries are at work studying the issue but say that it is all educated guessing at this point. The good news is that the government has decided to act in a timely and environmentally responsible way. Our beaches should be finally clearing out soon so that we can all enjoy!