Cancun seaweed conditions: clean and functional beaches

14/01/2021

The Secretary of the Navy (Semar) stated that during 2021 a decrease in the arrival of seaweed on the beaches of Cancun and the Mexican Caribbean is expected, due to changes in oceanographic currents and the annual oscillation of the El Niño phenomenon.

Cancun beaches without seaweed for the rest of the 2020.
Cancun beaches without seaweed for the rest of the 2020.

After a study elaborated by naval personnel that used information and data of North American institutions, same that considered different variables so much oceanographic, such as the density of the present alga in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the oceanographic and meteorological currents like the superficial wind, the tropical cyclones and the phenomenon of the Boy, in the period 2005-2020.

This information, according to the Navy, coincides with the higher sea temperatures in the region, to which it is added that a change in the circulation patterns of the ocean currents through the Lesser Antilles was observed, since there is a direct relationship between the coverage and displacement of the sargasso and the intensity of the currents, which limits the effect of the trade winds on the sargasso in its trajectory over the water.

Cancun broke its record of hotel occupancy since the beginning of the pandemic with 57% occupancy and more than 45,000 tourists in the destination.

Thus, the Ministry of the Navy estimated that the amount of seaweed it expects for the first quarter of the year depends largely on the existence observed in the Western Central Atlantic and Eastern Caribbean last December, and since there was no significant presence of said algae, nothing different would be expected during these next three months.

"Similarly, considering that cold conditions [La Niña phenomenon] will continue for the first half of the year and neutral conditions for the rest of the year, this will lead to a decrease in the intensity of the trade winds and therefore limit the presence of sargasso off the coast of Quintana Roo," he said.

In this way, it is expected that the presence of seaweed in Cancun for this year will be within a range of medium to low quantities, despite the fact that the presence of this algae has continued to be seen on some beaches but not in worrying quantities.

Remember to check the flags on the beach
Remember to check the flags on the beach

Before diving into the sea remember to check the flags on the beach as these indicate the conditions of the water. 🏝 It is important to take precautions and to avoid accidents.

✅ Green: Safe

⚠️ Yellow: Caution

🔴 Red: Danger

The 2020 Cancun seaweed season is over, with a positive outlook for visitors who come to enjoy the beautiful beaches and climate of the Mexican Caribbean, thus achieving a tourist reactivation that benefits everyone.

The Sargassum Monitoring Network is made up of biologists, oceanologists, computer engineers, and hydrobiologists, and draws up reports of sargassum from satellite images provided by the Optical Oceanography Laboratory of the University of South Florida, and the System of Marine Monitoring of the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Conabio).

The Network also takes its own videos and photographs daily with a fleet of 8 drones "that scan virtually the entire coast, from north to south." And they receive videos and photographs of the more than 40 thousand followers they have on Facebook.

Thanks to these three elements, satellite images, images of the drones, and images of users, they can make a very accurate signalized map of how seaweed is in the entire northern and southern part of Quintana Roo. The Secretariat of Tourism of Quintana Roo also publishes daily reports on the state of the beaches in the state in its social networks.

The predictions are also based on high-definition satellite images shared by the European Space Agency (ESA), supported by the observations of the last 30 days and the review of more than 300 high-resolution images in the infrared spectrum held by the Quintana Roo government.

How Mexicans combat sargassum

The Mexican Navy collected a total of 17,865 tons of sargassum on the beaches and maritime areas that make up the municipalities of Isla Mujeres, Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Othón p. Blanco, affected in the state of Quintana Roo.

At the end of Operation Sargasso 2020, 24 boats were deployed for the collection of seaweed, six sargassum boats, one research boat, and 17 smaller ones; as well as four sweepers and tractors, in addition to an aircraft in which scouting tours were carried out and 4,250 meters of the barrier for containment.

According to the balance of the strategy during the 2020 season of the Sargasso in Mexico, June, July, and August were the months with the largest collection of sargasso in the municipalities of Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cancun. In June, a total of 4,082.71 tons were collected, while in July 5,294.29 and August 2,168.21 tons of the algae that invaded the beaches of Quintana Roo.

The six seaweed harvesting vessels were designed and built at the Navy Yards by Mexican engineers and naval personnel.

During Operation Sargasso 2020, the Mexican Navy carried out several chemical oceanography research studies on different beaches of the municipalities, physical oceanography study in Cancun, a bathymetric study in Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Mahahual, and Xcalak.

The agreements reached between state, federal, and local authorities and businessmen are to continue applying the Strategy of Attention to the Sargasso next year according to the conditions of the arrival of the warning light established. Establish dialogue tables between the Federation, State, and Municipalities for the financing of maintenance.

To apply the necessary maintenance to the sweepers and tractors according to its program and to provide the logistic support for the personnel of SEMAR as far as lodging and necessary feeding during the operation sargasso of the next year; also to designate squads of personnel to support in the collection of seaweed on board of the smaller boats and in the activities of installation, maintenance, uninstallation and safeguard of the containment barriers and smaller boats during a meteorological phenomenon.

Establish places to protect barriers, machinery, and boats, ready to be used according to adverse weather conditions and provide coordinated support to receive the sargassum collected by NATANS and BSC at the respective docks; in addition, have in place the warning light prior to the next season.

Fancy trying a Seaweed Cocktail in Cancun?

Seaweed cocktail at the Ritz-Carlton Cancun. Photo: The Ritz-Carlton
Seaweed cocktail at the Ritz-Carlton Cancun. Photo: The Ritz-Carlton

The exotic cocktail is made with tequila Patrón Blanco, aquafaba, lemon juice, lavender biter, as well as dehydrated portions of pineapple and sargassum shrub and pineapple, for which a triple washing and disinfection process was carried out on the macroalgae collected from the sea, mixed with pineapple, honey, rosemary, and star anise.

What is sargassum and where it comes from

Sargassum is a large macroalga, meadow, or dark green color, which lives in the seas and moves by the currents of the oceans. If the conditions for its growth are optimal, in less than twenty days it doubles its biomass (as it is happening), since it has the facility to grow very fast. In this way, the algae turn brown the paradisiacal beaches of the Mexican Caribbean and pose a real threat to the tourist interests of the region.

The macroalga reaches the Caribbean from two main sources: the Sargasso Sea, in the Bermuda Triangle, and a new area, north of the equator, where it accumulates off the coast of Brazil to enter the Caribbean.

Sargassum on beaches is an indicator of pollution and increased damage caused by human activity in the seas and Caribbean coasts, where there are irregular settlements and inadequate treatment of sewage and greywater.

The population is recommended to take precautions to carry out water activities due to wave and wind effects. Also, take extreme precautions when traveling on the road due to wet soil from the rains.

The sargassum arrival is a regional phenomenon that affects, without distinction, all the coasts of more than 30 countries, territories, and different protectorates.

Sargassum is reported from the coasts of Cuba, Turks and Caicos Islands, Inagua, The Bahamas, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Honduras, and also the coastal region of Quintana Roo Mexico.

Also, further east, all the islands of the Lesser Antilles arc are affected, such as the British Virgin Islands, Saint John, Saint Thomas, Culebra, Antigua, and Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Barbados, Saint Vincent, and the Grenadines.

It also arrives in Granada, Trinidad, and Tobago, Curacao, Margarita Island, Aruba, the Atlantic Coast of Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and the Peninsula of Florida in the United States.

Sustainable solutions

Sargassum can be used as fuel, energy generator, fertilizer, animal feed, in the tourism sector, and has become useful raw material in several industries which could leave great contributions to Mexico.

From the problem that brought the arrival of sargassum to the Mexican Caribbean coast, researchers, universities, biologists, and ecologists from Mexico, Japan, and other parts of the world, studied the composition and properties of these macroalgae. It has many positive, sustainable applications and whose impact will be long term.

Sargassum has recently been used in the preparation of blocks or bricks to be used in construction. It should be noted that this application is ecologically more friendly and economically more profitable.

There are already buildings made with sargassum bricks, which means that it is a viable and safe building material. For the construction of approximately 40 square meters, 20 tons of sargassum would be used and create 2,150 blocks of this seaweed, which represents a relief because it will not be treated as waste, but its presence will be used to create spaces and environmentally friendly constructions.

In addition to being a sustainable material, the use and exploitation of sargassum would have a positive impact on costs, since construction investment would be reduced by up to 50 percent and would be a replicable construction model in states such as Durango, State of Mexico, Zacatecas, among others.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment of Quintana Roo, conducted studies on the blocks created with sargassum and defined that their resistance is between 75 and 120 kilos, while the durability can be up to 120 years regardless of the region or type of climate where they are used. Currently, there are no sustainable materials so resistant even with that period of life. This means that the buildings made from this seaweed will be really sustainable and ecological.

On the beaches of Quintana Roo, such as Tulum, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, Puerto Morelos, Mahahual, to name a few, construction of homes and hotels from the sargassum has begun, a trend that is expected to rise.