Cancun and the rest of the Mexican Caribbean battle a sargassum seaweed invasion

May 3, 2022

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.

For more travel tips and news, sign up for TPG’s daily newsletter.

Coping with waves of sargassum

workers removing seaweed from beach
Workers try to clear sargassum from a beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2021. (Photo by Bill Fink/The Points Guy)

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.”

Related: 9 ways to do Riviera Maya from Cancun to Tulum

The current situation in Cancun

Webcam of Cancun's Hard Rock Hotel reveals a thin line of sargassum
Webcam of Cancun’s Hard Rock Hotel reveals a thin line of sargassum. (Screenshot from Hard Rock Hotel 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.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.