Cancun seaweed conditions: No sargassum! Good weather, no rain, very nice temperature, come and visit Cancun and the Riviera Maya!

The entire north coast of Quintana Roo, free of sargassum, only some sporadic and intermittent shells of very low intensity of seaweed, nothing to worry about, since they do not interfere in the development of the activities of a normal beach day. Come and visit Cancun and Riviera Maya at the best time of the year, with the best weather, without rain and with pleasant 25 ° C (77 ° F).

Seaweed in Cancun is nowhere to be found today. The hotel Le Blanc now, very neat and clean. Photo: Javier Berry‎
Seaweed in Cancun is nowhere to be found today. The hotel Le Blanc now, very neat and clean. Photo: Javier Berry‎

For 2020 it is very likely that there will be recharge of sargassum on beaches of Quintana Roo, so municipalities and employers are already preparing for this situation, also expect that in 2020 they will work in a coordinated manner to cope with the arrival of this algae.

The increase in temperatures, due to climate change, is going to generate a potential increase in the arrival of the sargasso to the coasts of the Mexican Caribbean, said hydrologist Esteban Amaro, technical director of the Sargasso Monitoring Network, a non-profit organization of the Civil Society.

"By January 2020, no major recharge of pelagic sargassum is expected on the Mexican Caribbean coast, we will only have isolated recharge of seagrasses. However, we are not ruling out arrivals of very low-intensity sargassum, especially in the south of the state, near Xcalak and Mahahual and in some vulnerable points of the Riviera Maya, such as Puerto Morelos and Tulum," he said.

He said that by the second half of January 2020, it is expected that the first waves of sargassum will begin to arrive; however, these will be of very low intensity, but will be increasing more and more as spring arrives, reaching its most important peak during the months of March to August.

Cancun Seaweed update on 26 Jan 2020

The Sargassum Monitoring Network of Cancun publishes daily reports of the situation on 60 beaches of the Mexican Caribbean, based on satellite and drone images, and photographs of citizens.

Green: low presence of sargassum

Red: strong, excessive presence of sargassum

Orange: abundant presence of sargassum

Yellow: moderate presence of sargassum

Turquoise: clean of sargassum

Sargassum conditions are very dynamic and can change from one day to another, and even in hours, there may be differences of appreciation on the evaluation points referred to here.

In 2020, less sargassum will arrive on the Mexican coast: NASA and USF

The University of South Florida (USF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) anticipated a significant reduction in the arrival of sargassum this year to Mexican coasts, according to their mathematical models, which in the first two weeks of the year reported a 50 percent decrease in the surface that reaches the macroalgae over waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

Esteban Amaro Mauricio, technical director of the Sargasso Monitoring Network in Cancun, told La Jornada Maya in the first days of the year that a scattered talofite stain of approximately 100 kilometers would arrive during March on the shores of Quintana Roo, which would return to result in cancellations and tourist affectations.

In December, the spot measured 10 square kilometers, 50 percent less than in November. In the most recent report published by the USF, coordinated by NASA, it was confirmed that the amount in the last month of 2019 decreased significantly compared to August of that same year, showing much less compared to a historical average of 60 square kilometers between 2011 and 2017.

In June 2018, it reached an unprecedented figure, since the macroalgae spread for 2,800 square kilometers. "In December 2019, the November situation continued. Very little sargassum was found in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Strait, Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean, "states the document issued by the Floridian campus.

The area that encompasses the "sargassum island" in the Atlantic Ocean reached its minimum extent in two years in January, the campus report said.

During 2019, Cancun and Riviera Maya registered a decrease in occupations, and hoteliers in the area admitted that the excessive arrival of sargassum, coupled with the growing and unstoppable wave of insecurity, as well as the lack of tourism promotion, were the factors of that decrease.

The monitoring of both institutions indicates that "minimum" arrivals will be experienced from January to February; however, it is contemplated that due to what is still in the eastern Atlantic, if the macroalgae move westward, following the equatorial current, the sargassum volume "may increase in spring 2020".

Despite the decrease, the water has not regained its natural transparency and its usual blue-turquoise tones because the presence of macroalgae, until August 2019, and its decomposition, generated an ocher color that is not yet diluted completely in The most affected beaches.

At the national level, the government did not label resources for the attention to the phenomenon for fiscal year 2020, although there were requests by the party to redirect resources from the federal zone (zofemat) or the Non-Resident Law (DNR), to the subject. What was most achieved during the past year was that the Navy put itself at the forefront of the strategy.

At the beginning of the year, Amaro Mauricio indicated that the recales of recent days in Cancun and Playa del Carmen were of seagrass, which always occurs in winter and they come off because the water is spoiled near the shore, which causes the stagnation of the macroalgae on the beaches, which also accelerates the white syndrome that kills the corals of the quintanarroense portion of the Mesoamerican Reef System (SAM).

He recalled that in 2019 more than one million tons were calculated, and that only during June-July were 20 million for the entire Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean, according to the University of Florida - the total would be giving in mid-February -, "with that they gave us only five percent would be what we calculated for the whole last year".


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 our users, they can make a very accurate signalized map of how sargassum 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.

SEAWEED CONDITIONS IN RIVIERA MAYA

Sargassum appearance at Holbox worries tour operators

The tourism service providers asked the Tourism Department of the Lazaro Cardenas Town Hall to take action to mitigate the situation, since they are a few days away from Christmas and tourists from different parts of the world have hotel reservations and fear they will get a bad impression.

Holbox's beaches were covered with sargassum
Holbox's beaches were covered with sargassum

Juan Manuel Rico Santana, a nautical expert from Holbox, said that the last rains have paralyzed their activities, which is now aggravated by the arrival of sargassum. He recalled that yesterday finally Port Captain agreed to allow them to sail in the area of the Yalahau lagoon, but hours later, again closed the port, for all except the ferry services.

Tulum Without Sargasso Today

Isla Mujeres beaches clean

With the support of several municipal agencies and volunteers, the Isla Mujeres City Council, led by Juan Carrillo Soberanis through the Federal Maritime Land Zone (Zofemat), cleaned the beaches before the atypical arrival of sargassum, leaving Playa Centro and Playa Norte 100 percent free of that seaweed.

Kerem Pinto Aguilar, director of the above-mentioned agency, pointed out that thanks to the speed and intensity of the sargassum collection and removal work, and to the teamwork, the beaches of Isla Mujeres, which are the most popular and visited, as well as awarded with "Blue Flag" are in optimal conditions for the enjoyment of locals and visitors.

"Our municipality preserves multiple natural attractions within which is Playa Norte which is one of the best beaches in the world and has even been in the top ten of the 25 best beaches and maintains the distinctive Blue Flag. We are 100 percent free of sargassum in the most visited beaches of the Magic Town, without a doubt, the municipal government will continue to offer national and foreign tourism a first-class service with clean and safe beaches," concluded Pinto Aguilar.

Sargassum is cleaned on Cozumel beaches, every day about 4 tons removed

Personnel from Cozumel's Federal Maritime-Land Zone (Zofemat) cleaned up the island's boardwalk, which came with the strong winds from the bad weather affecting the region. About 20 employees of Zofemat participated in the cleaning, an agency that intensified actions to maintain the city's beaches in good condition, with the aim of offering a good image to the massive arrival of tourists at the San Miguel maritime terminal.

According to personnel dedicated to these tasks, who avoided identifying themselves, the cleaning began at 8 a.m. and will continue all day to keep the nearby beaches clean, which are the ones that most attract tourists visiting the island.

" We are cleaning the sands on both sides of the San Miguel maritime terminal, where there is the esplanade of the Mexican flag and the sculpture of the diver," which is the first point that tourists encounter when they arrive by ferry from Playa del Carmen".

Each day, the crew of 20 workers will be removing about four tons of sargassum from the coastline, and then moving it to the deposits established by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (Sema).

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.

HOW MEXICANS COMBAT SARGASSUM

Since 2013, when the first massive arrival of sargassum to the coasts of Quintana Roo was registered, its volume has increased exponentially each year and for specialists, businessmen and authorities of the three levels of government it represents a latent threat for the destruction of reefs, the erosion of beaches, the tourist contraction and, worst of all, the possible impact on the third source of income of the national Gross Domestic Product.

Sargassum clean-up on the beaches of Quintana Roo. (Twitter @AytoCancun)
Sargassum clean-up on the beaches of Quintana Roo. (Twitter @AytoCancun)

During these last six years, the strategies to address the contingency with public resources already exceed 470 million pesos (approximately 24.7 million US dollars), which have been enough to create a kind of emerging market where almost by spontaneous generation emerged "specialists" and "expert companies" in sargassum, offering an infinite number of solutions to control its dangerous arrival and its possible economic impact.

There were also new jobs such as the sargacero (responsible for cleaning the beaches) or unusual proposals to take advantage of the recycling of this alga in the manufacture of partitions, shoes, even fuel production. And with all this, another vein for government corruption was opened, as denounced by the business sector of the state and federal legislators.

Clean-up work on the beaches

With more than 1,100 people, workers from various municipal agencies began clean-up of the beaches in Cancun The program is called "Everyone against the sargassum". The objective is to attend the 12 public beach accesses of Cancún and it consists of collecting the sargassum directly on the shore of the sea. The aim is to attend the Dolphins, Whales, Marlin and Chac Mool beaches, and to transfer the seaweed from the coastal dune to its final disposal.

Heavy machinery

In the midst of a crisis due to the massive arrival of sargassum along the entire coastline of Quintana Roo, the president of the Ecological Group of Mayab (Gema), Araceli Domínguez, denounced that the municipality of Benito Juárez, Cancún, admitted heavy machinery to Playa Gaviota Azul, in violation of the rules established by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat), for the removal of macroalgae.

The activist explained that these actions are generating a complete loss of sand due to the compaction of the terrain and impact on the nesting of sea turtles.

The guidelines for the sargassum removal, which were established in 2015, include recommendations, for example, that the work should be carried out between the hours of seven in the morning and seven in the evening without touching the nesting and spawning area of the sea turtles.

Shrimp boats

The shrimp fleet of the state of Quintana Roo could be added to the sargassum collection in the high seas, due to the large concentrations of the algae that are located in the Atlantic Ocean towards the Mexican Caribbean.

From June 15 to October 21, the shrimp fleet, made up of 18 vessels, will be inactive due to the closure of the crustacean, which will allow them to help with the environmental contingency. Each of them could collect up to 70 tons of sargassum per day, which would be moved to deeper waters to meet their life cycle and die at sea. The idea would be to redirect the sargassum, collect it at sea, move it in the same boat and release it kilometers offshore so that the current itself will take it to deeper waters, so there would be no damage to the seafloor.

It could be a good strategy because it would allow collecting the seaweed in large quantities. It is an option if it can be implemented.

The shrimpers would join ships of the Mexican Navy that will help in the harvesting of the sargassum.

The navy

Within the Sargasso containment plan, the Navy announced that it will build barges to collect this seaweed that arrives on the beaches of the Mexican Caribbean.

It employs a Logistic Supply Vessel anchored in the vicinity of the Fifth Naval Region, based in Isla Mujeres, as a logistic support platform for the operations carried out by the Navy personnel in that area.

Likewise, there is a Research Ship to carry out sargassum containment operations at sea, with specialized hydrocarbon containment equipment. There is also an Oceanic Patrol and a Defender type vessel to support the laying of hydrocarbon containment barriers, as well as smaller vessels.

In the land operations, the Navy personnel carry out the picking with shovels and wheelbarrows of the sargassum that is contained by the barriers laid on the shoreline.

Likewise, naval personnel specialized in programs against marine pollution, make the laying of the barriers along the coastline and relocate them according to the needs and coordination carried out with the corresponding dependencies, making use of smaller vessels assigned.

Semar said it has a coastal patrol plane, as well as three helicopters to carry out aerial tours, in order to monitor the presence of sargassum in the area of ​​operations and be able to guide and direct the surface units to the areas of higher incidence of sargassum.

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

Fancy trying a Seaweed Cocktail in Cancun?

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.

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.

Studies confirm that seaweed can be smoked

Great joy was unleashed in the Riviera Maya by the announcement that sargassum is smokable, so it will be marketed for that purpose. Those interested can also go to the beaches to collect it and make their own cigars.

After several meetings between academics, environmentalists and hoteliers, one of the main goals was to seek a benefit from the massive arrival of the algae, which is expected to be constant every year.

The latest studies conducted by the University of Miami and confirmed by scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) confirm that sargassum is not harmful to humans.

Furthermore, due to a large number of nutrients it possesses, smoking it can produce a more pleasant sensation than tobacco and without side effects, since it is totally organic.

As of 2020, the Secretariat of Natural Resources (Semarnat) will grant permits to citizens for its collection and final disposal and is seeking the Attorney General's Office to define an amount for minimum possession per person without this being considered a crime.

The seaweed, once dry, is ready to be smoked, according to experts, who advise not to exceed five cigarettes per day. It is expected that well-known brands will enter this business and that many people, both locals, and tourists, from Playa del Carmen and Tulum will come as soon as the recesses begin to collect large quantities and make their own cigarettes.

This will also represent an important economic saving for the authority, since they will not invest so much in the collection and transportation of the gorse and will avoid disputes over the final destination, since the amount that would reach the sargassum dumps will be minimal.

ALGORITHM THAT DETECTS THE OCCURRENCE OF SARGASSUM

Students and academics from the UNAM won first place in the international Ocean Hackathon competition, held in France, for the development of an algorithm capable of early detection of sargasso and tracking it from Africa to the Americas.

The university students, members of the "Sargassum Busters" team, competed against more than 50 young people from eight French cities at the Mondial de la Mer Campus, located in Brest and considered one of the most important communities in the European country in the study of the oceans.

They were supported by the Institute of Biotechnology (IBt), the Engineering School Alumni Society and the French Embassy in Mexico.

The algorithm uses images from Sentinel-2, a European Space Agency satellite, to more precisely detect the presence of macro-algae on the marine surface.

"With this tool, it would be possible to track its movement and find out more about the possible causes of its growth in recent years, as well as to establish an early warning to prevent its massive arrival on the coasts and the consequent ecological and economic deterioration it entails," explained Héctor V. Ramírez Gómez, a Ph.D. student in Biochemical Sciences at the IBt and a member of the team.

"We use artificial intelligence algorithms to detect the sargassum on the marine surface; the purpose is to observe its presence and dynamics from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico, since today we know that it travels from that continent to the Mexican Caribbean; what is missing is to find out what the reason for its uncontrolled growth is," he remarked.

After winning first place in France, the team members (seven members from UNAM and two from the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla) were invited to the All-Atlantic Ocean Research Forum, to be held in February in Brussels, where they will present their project to another international audience.

The algorithm for satellite detection of the sargasso was proposed by the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Conabio) and the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC), given the need for a more precise system of detection and early warning of this macro-algae.

Currently, images from a NASA satellite placed in orbit around the year 2000 are used, which usually give false positives, as it warns of the presence of sargasso when it does not exist, or does not do so when it does.

In addition, the resolution of its images is up to one kilometer, compared to the 20 meters of the Sentinel-2, so it detects sargassum only when they are very large spots, and "in reality the spots of these algae present varied sizes," he said.

The university's proposal is to use ESA satellite images and intelligence algorithms for more precise detection. For now, they continue to refine the algorithm for installation on the Conabio website, specifically in the Coastal Marine Analysis and Information System (SIMAR).

By Mexicanist