Cancun and the rest of the Mexican Caribbean battle a sargassum seaweed invasion
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Masses of stinky sargassum seaweed have been plaguing Caribbean beaches for the past few years. Currents wash floating forests of the “mega algae” to shore, creating knee-deep piles of the plants that can extend in fields that measure 30 feet wide and some miles long. Needless to say, this is not good for tourism. Last summer, many resorts in the U.S. Virgin Islands had to close their beaches after becoming completely swamped by sargassum. The Margaritaville Vacation Club by Wyndham hotel in St. Thomas was hit particularly badly — not only was its beach closed, but the overwhelming sulfurous smell of the plants kept guests (including this writer) from dining outdoors or using the beachside pools. This year, the beaches of the Mexican Caribbean, including those in Cancun and Tulum, appear to be bearing the brunt of the annual seaweed invasion.
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Coping with waves of sargassum
In order to deal with the massive sargassum buildup, the state of Quintana Roo is using every resource at its disposal to keep its beaches clean, according to local news outlet Reportur. Reportur also revealed the Mexican navy has deployed 11 sargassum collection vessels to scoop up sargassum at sea. Some navy personnel are also working with contractors to install 300 anchors for sargassum barriers, which will feature more than 1,500 feet of deployed screens.
On land, cities and private resorts are using tractors equipped with sweepers to gather up the sargassum on beaches. Those hotels without heavy equipment are deploying armies of rake-wielding workers to clear the plants, and they’re accepting volunteers to help. According to Radio Formula, the Federal Maritime Terrestrial Zone agency is offering 9,000 pesos a month (about $440) for people who help with the clearance efforts. There are no age or physical requirements, so if you want to help fund your vacation, here’s an opportunity.
By April 4, the collective beachside work had gathered up an estimated 2,500 tons of the plants on shorelines across the region. Despite this, 44 beaches in the Cancun area still have “excess presence” of the algae, according to the website sargassummonitoring.com.
The National Autonomous University of Mexico released a report last week quoting an expert warning of potential tough times ahead. “According to satellite images, 2022 could be a difficult year. I don’t know if more than 2018, but it will be similar,” Rosa Elisa Rodríguez Martínez, a specialist at the Academic Unit of Reef Systems of the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology, said. “It is not yet known if the arrival of sargassum on the Mexican Caribbean coast will increase this year compared to previous years, because the months in which it arrives in greater quantity are May and June.”
The current situation in Cancun
Despite the dire warnings, views from Cancun’s Hard Rock Hotel webcam today reveal only a thin line of sargassum washed up along its beach, which remains mostly clean from the pesky plants. However, more sargassum appears to be lurking in large clumps offshore. TPG contacted the hotel, where a staff member said the beach is cleared of the plants daily, and any guest uncomfortable with swimming in the water can contact the beach crew, which will dispatch someone to clear the area. The live cam view shows tractors with sweepers periodically rolling along the beach to gather up the plants. Other Cancun-area resort webcams do not show any major sargassum buildup on the beaches, so the proactive work by the government and private partners appears to have the invasion under control at the moment.
According to Liliana Arauz the director of communications for of Quintana Roo Tourism “We like to say that sargassum is here: “neither everyday nor on every beach”. Of course we have beaches that are completely clear of sargassum, this changes everyday…The resorts are doing an amazing job on cleaning their beaches every morning and also, some of them move their tourists from one hotel to another in order to help in this situation.”
Visitors to the Mexican Caribbean should stay aware of breaking news on the topic, and contact their destination hotel or resort for information about its specific beaches. Keep in mind that currents can swamp one given area with the sargassum while leaving other beaches perfectly pristine. So while your day’s beach plans may have to be changed during a Cancun visit, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to cancel a trip at this time.
Related: How safe is it to travel to Cancun?
Featured photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
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