Mexico’s Tourism Industry Might Take a Hit From Smelly Seaweed That Keeps Washing up on Beaches

Jul 1, 2019

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Vacationers soon heading to Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen in Mexico might be greeted with a little bit more than some tropical sun and sand. To be specific — they’re likely to see (or smell) a mass amount of rotting sargassum.

Sargassum, which are floating masses of seaweed-like algae endemic to the Caribbean Islands and some Mexican beaches, are typically characterized by their garbage-like smell and tendency to transform the water from clear to a murky, cloudy brown.

As it turns out, sargassum has been giving the Mexican tourism industry quite a lot of grief in the past few months. The country has so far funneled $17 million into removal projects for over half-million tons of sargassum seaweed from its Caribbean beaches alone. And according to a report by USA Today, the issue is likely to cause even more of a stink in the coming years.

A worker removes Sargassum seaweed from the beach near Tulum in Quintana Roo State, Mexico, on May 24, 2019. - Worried about the increase in the arrival of Sargassum at the Caribbean beaches, scientists, hotel owners and government officials are trying to find ways to get rid of it. Tons of this seaweed are upsetting tourists as locals work around the clock to remove them from the beaches. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker removes Sargassum seaweed from the beach near Tulum in Quintana Roo State, Mexico, on May 24, 2019. – Worried about the increase in the arrival of Sargassum at the Caribbean beaches, scientists, hotel owners and government officials are trying to find ways to get rid of it. Tons of this seaweed is upsetting tourists as locals work around the clock to remove them from the beaches. (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)

The influx of sargassum is reportedly due to seaweed moving from an area of the Atlantic off the northern coast of Brazil, by the mouth of the Amazon River. Experts believe that this connects back to deforestation or fertilizer runoff in the Amazon area, as the increased flow of nutrients could be what’s fueling the algae. However, oceanographer Donald R. Johnson insisted that the Brazilians are not to blame, and that “other causes contribute,” to the issue such as nutrient flows that stem from the Congo River.

Either way, Mexican locals — who largely depend on the tourism industry for their income — are struggling to keep the build-up of sargassum at bay. “Fighting sargassum is a chore every day,” said Cancun Mayor Mara Lezama to USA Today. “You clean the beaches in the morning, and sometimes you clean them again in the afternoon or at night, and then you have to go back and clean it again.”

Featured image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
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