Sargassum season has begun along Mexico’s Caribbean coast, bringing with it headaches for hoteliers and the tourism sector in general. The stinky, unsightly seaweed has been arriving around this time of year for the past decade, turning the area’s famous turquoise waters brown and clogging up its famed white-sand beaches.
In 2020, with tourism having been temporarily shut down due to the then-expanding COVID-19 pandemic, the sargassum problem took a back seat and was not much talked about. This year, with plenty of people eager to get out of their homes and finally go on vacation as vaccine rollouts continue, experts are again examining the macro-algae phenomenon and contemplating ways to hold back the malodorous brown tide.
Riviera Maya News reported that Carlos Joaquín, governor of Quintana Roo (the state situated on the Yucatan Peninsula that’s home to popular destinations like Cancún, Tulum and Playa del Carmen), announced a forecast of the volume of sargassum that’s expected to arrive in 2021.
Coordinator of the Sargassum Attention Strategy and Secretary of the Navy, Rear Admiral César Gustavo Ramírez Torralba revealed that, over the next two weeks, the quantity of seaweed arriving on Quintana Roo’s shores is predicted to be about the same or, perhaps, slightly less than what was seen last year.
After the overwhelming masses of brown macro-algae choked the Mexican-Caribbean coastline in 2019, officials began instituting safeguards to prevent its reaching shore, placing barriers around the waters of popular beaches, which are designed to funnel the stuff away.
Torralba said that 9,320 meters (30,578 feet) of containment barriers are now being installed just off the beaches of Puerto Morelos, Solidaridad, Tulum, and Mahahual and Xcalak, while the last two locations have already begun experiencing moderate landfall.
Even the Mexican navy was recruited to aid the cause and built ships expressly to collect sargassum from the sea. Torralba said that 11 vessels will be dedicated to the purpose in shallow waters off the coasts of Benito Juárez (Cancún), Puerto Morelos, Solidaridad (Playa del Carmen), Tulum and Othón P. Blanco (Mahahual, Xcalak).
An ocean-going vessel will also join in the efforts at removing giant mats of sargassum from the sea, moving from one area to another, depending upon where the greatest concentrations of the algae appear. As part of Quintana Roo’s sargassum monitoring program, flyovers will also be routinely conducted along the coast to track the seaweed’s trajectory.