Mexican Government Acts to Fight Sargassum in Costa Maya

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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.

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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.

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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!

Sargassum Attack! Costa Maya Mahahual Under Seige Again in 2018

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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.

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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!