In Cancun sargassum seaweed continues to arrive in large amounts, despite the efforts of authorities

Despite the promise of intervention by the Navy of Mexico in the fight against sargassum, in Cancun the seaweed continues to arrive on the beaches, causing some problems for tourists and service providers.

Volunteers and authorities of the three levels of government cleaned seaweed 12 kilometers from the beaches of Cancun. Image: Red Sargazo Facebook
Volunteers and authorities of the three levels of government cleaned seaweed 12 kilometers from the beaches of Cancun. Image: Red Sargazo Facebook

Military ships and helicopters of the Navy monitor and collect tons of sargassum on the high seas, while officials and citizens also went out this weekend to clean the beaches of Quintana Roo from the macroalga that reached the coast, demonstrating a coordinated work to resolve the contingency and avoid impacts on tourism. 

As part of Operation Sargasso 2019 a Navy Panther helicopter began to monitor and collect information on the most affected areas, while with different vessels deployed containment barriers and networks, in which during two days were collected 10 tons of sargassum between the areas of Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras and Tulum.

The ship "Libertador" of the Mexican Navy remained anchored in front of the southern tip of Isla Mujeres, from where it was supporting the logistics of the other vessels and teams that are already working to contain sargassum on the high seas.

In this work were added about a thousand workers and officials of the Benito Juárez City Council to prevent the accumulation of the macroalga in 12 different points of the coast of Cancun, including beaches Dolphins, Whales, Marlin, Chac Mool, Child, The Pearls, Flying Fish, Lobster, Turtles, Snail, Blue Seagull and Coral.

Also, the association Unidos por Quintana Roo combined the efforts of more than 500 people, including workers and state government officials, businessmen and students, in the cleanup of coastlines that restarted in Mahahual and Xcalak, and continued with a mega-day of cleaning up to Playa Caribe in Playa del Carmen, with the collection of tons of sargassum.

"There are days when we have a considerable excess sargasso, but there are also other days when there is little, that helps us and we can do a better cleaning," said a worker from the Directorate of Public Services, assigned to the Playa Delfines.

Vacationers on the beach in Tulum. Image: Red Sargazo
Vacationers on the beach in Tulum. Image: Red Sargazo

The employee commented that the clean-up days at the different beaches of Cancun start at 07:00 hours and end at 2:00 pm when on average they raise more than four tons of the plant.
In Coral Beach, kilometer 24 of the hotel zone, the sargasso already caused the erosion of a stretch of sand, and it is in the process of drying, generating the impression of mud in the stretch.

Experts have predicted that this year sargassum will arrive in greater quantities than last year when it exceeded all records and caused thousands of tourists to stay away from the beaches of the Mexican Caribbean region. It is expected that between 800,000 and one million tons of this algae will arrive, an amount that increases five times the 170,000 tons that arrived in 2018.

By Mexicanist

The government declares an emergency due to the arrival of sargasso in Quintana Roo

The government of Quintana Roo issued an emergency declaration on several beaches of the State before the "imminent disaster" derived from the massive arrival of sargasso, which will allow access to federal funds for the attention to the phenomenon.

The areas involved are Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Tulum, Holbox, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Bacalar, and Othon P. Blanco.

The decree, which came into force as of its publication in the Official State Gazette, on June 7, establishes as a priority program the collection, transport, final disposal and valorization of the sargassum that arrives on the coast.

The uses and products generated from the sargassum will be resources administered by the Sefiplan and should be reinvested in studies aimed at understanding, mitigating and combating the massive arrival of the macroalga, as well as mechanisms for its remediation.

According to the state agency, the amount of sargassum that arrives at the coasts of the Mexican Caribbean is increasing and implies a negative impact for tourism, the economy, the environment and public health, since the decomposition of the alga generates liquids that can be toxic if not controlled, such as arsenic and hydrochloric acid.

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 grey water.

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 Sargasso 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.

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 sargasso, 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.

THE NAVY

According to local media, a scientific vessel from the Mexican Navy and another from logistic support are already in Cancún for the start of the sargassum retreat in three priority zones of these coasts of the Mexican Caribbean. Both boats will anchor at sea in front of Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Puerto Morelos.

"The first vessel from the Secretariat of the Navy arrived in Quintana Roo, which could be in charge of the seaweed collection at sea," Secretary of Tourism Miguel Torruco tweeted yesterday.

The Navy will shortly destine another four boats, later there will be eight and then 16 until they have a deployment that will cover most of the 150 kilometers affected by the massive recale of the algae.

DRONE MONITORING

According to information collected from drone flights and satellite images provided by the authorities, the first waves of sargassum to Cancun began practically a week ago, which began to land at kilometer 19.5 of Kukulkan Avenue, in the hotel zone.

"We are monitoring these areas today with Drones flights in 38 points of interest and tourist importance, to confirm the images we received from the satellite during today," the Sargasso Monitoring Network stated in a message through the social networks.

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.

For the specialists, the use of shrimp boats would be the first seaweed collection line in the open sea and they will be added to the sargassum collection boats aligned to the coast and to the anti/sargassum barriers. The important thing is to prevent the sargassum from reaching the coast.

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

CLEAN-UP WORK ON THE BEACHES

Sargassum combat on beaches of Quintana Roo. (Twitter @AytoCancun)
Sargassum combat on beaches of Quintana Roo. (Twitter @AytoCancun)

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.

"We demand the municipality of Benito Juárez to be consistent with the care of the environment and the agreements that have been made for sargassum management, especially with the commitment it has in the care and protection of sea turtles."

SARGASSUM AND CORRUPTION

As reported by the Proceso, the official measurements point out that the red hot spots were lit in 2015 by an atypical mass arrival of sargassum, which forced the federal government, then headed by Enrique Peña Nieto, to allocate resources in the amount of 150 million pesos to the government of the now former governor. imprisoned Roberto Borge Angulo.

Transparency information revealed by the National Tourism Fund (Fonatur), reveals that the amount of 79 million 202 thousand 74 pesos remain in the limbo, while the remaining 70 million 797 thousand 926 pesos that were used for the purpose , some registered anomalies such as the purchase of a supposedly special machine to pick up sargassum that was not used and left abandoned in Puerto Morelos, or the payment for a study of the phenomenon that was filed.

In the breakdown of expenses, it was found that 25 million 630 thousand 629 pesos were allocated for the rent and acquisition of machinery to remove the algae; for the purchase of a "collection vessel", six million pesos; a "collection" catamaran with a value of 752 thousand 500 pesos; "Conveyor belts", 2 million 897 thousand 720 pesos; containment barriers, one million 207 thousand 500 pesos; vehicle with "trailer for transport of sargassum", 568 thousand 487 pesos and a tractor "with sweeper" for 2 million 212 thousand 262 pesos.

Also documented are the leasing of heavy machinery for a total of 11 million 992 thousand 157 pesos and additionally 30 million pesos were used through the Fonatur for the provision of services "of collection, collection, transport, and disposal of sargassum beached on the beaches of the municipalities of Tulum, Othon P. Blanco, Solidaridad, and Cozumel".

The "Pilot Project for the Integrated Management of Sargassum" began with the preparation of a scientific study by which the State Government paid almost one million pesos, and which included an analysis of water quality, the marine ecosystem and proper management of the alga.

In 2018, the massive arrival of sargassum was once again atypical, and both the federal and state governments, already headed by the PAN, Carlos Joaquín González, invested more than 320 million pesos in total, which federal legislators are now requesting to make their management transparent.

In the absence of strategies to address the contingency, federal legislators asked to rise to the rank of natural disaster the massive arrival of sargassum so that resources from the Natural Disasters Fund (Fonden) are immediately allocated, which has not been agreed or between the own senators and deputies for Quintana Roo.

In the middle of the contingency, on Tuesday, April 29, a group of Quintana Roo businessmen went to the Senate of the Republic to launch an SOS to act immediately and to establish a budget to avoid the risks of suffering an economic impact.

The following day, during the session where the senators discussed the urgency of addressing the contingency of the sargassum, the morenista Maribel Villegas Canché promoted a point of agreement to exhort the PAN governor Carlos Joaquin to transparent the application of the 240 million pesos that the state government contributed to the cause in 2018.

In the opinion of the legislator, the strategy implemented last year did not obtain the expected results and acts of corruption are presumed.

"It gives the impression that the state government is enriching itself with the tragedy because there are no results, and that is why we present this point of the agreement signed by practically all the parliamentary groups, except National Action that does not want to be transparent," he said.

In reference to the creation of the special committee to address the contingency of the sargasso, the legislator said that the Foreign Ministry is leading these works, "but not in the same conditions as last year that asked for money and that this finally went down the drain. corruption, that will not happen again, gentlemen ", in reference to the State Technical Scientific Committee, constituted in August 2018 by the government of Carlos Joaquín.

"Let them be clear, make it clear that every peso that is invested in the sargasso is transparent. Let it be clear to them that it is going to be a committee made up of hoteliers, by city councils and also by the state government to make every peso transparent ... that the governor gives an explanation of how each peso was spent last year, 2018, and which is observed by the Superior Audit of the Federation. We do not want what always happened in the old regime; that a tragedy was coming, the governors asked for money, they were granted and the reconstruction turned into detours, corruption and the oblivion of the affected communities," added the senator.

SOLUTIONS TO SARGASSUM CRISIS

From adversity, the opportunity is born

That is something that a group of entrepreneurs from the Yucatan Peninsula understood when facing the extraordinary arrival of the sargassum macroalga, which since 2015 has affected the coasts of the Mexican Caribbean.

Now, the companies dedicated to the exploitation and processing of the input will constitute the first Sargasso Industrial Association in the world, in order to professionalize the sector and ensure the interests of the nascent industry.

Grupo Metco (producer of natural sugar substitute Svetia), Alquimar, Solar green, Omar Vázquez, who manufactures homes from seaweed, and a fifth company that is dedicated to the creation of biomass with the aim of generating hot water, will be the first members of the Association.

The company is dedicated to developing biofertilizers, alginates (used for the manufacture of creams, textile inks, and detergents) and fucoidan (used as a food supplement), has two agreements to increase their production.

The first, with a hotel group, that will provide the sargassum collected from its coasts, and with the Metco Group, which will provide the technical team for the transformation of the macroalga.

Metco has a joint venture with Alquimar to process up to 120,000 tons of sargassum per year in the biotechnology factory, of which 10% are obtained from alginates.

The plant is located in Lerma, State of Mexico and the biotechnology division represents only part of its business focused on the production of natural sugar substitutes.

The collection of the raw material represents around 20% of the total cost of the transformation process and at least all the companies that will make up the association obtain it with their own resources and not through third parties.

The issue of Sargassum is close to being legislated in the country as a result of the nascent industry and the losses it represents to hotel groups and airport operators.

The industrial use of sargassum that appears constantly on the beaches of Quintana Roo, could also help mitigate the negative impact on the tourism sector in the Riviera Maya area.

To take advantage of the presence of sargassum, the local government joined forces with the private initiative, mainly from the hotel sector, the scientific community, and civil society to establish strategies that allow them to face this environmental contingency through the Puerto Morelos Protocol.

Private companies from different sectors have held meetings with representatives of Puerto Morelos Protocol, with the objective of collecting the sargassum that is removed from the beaches, although it is not yet clear whether it is a donation or will generate a payment and thus gather resources to expand the detection, containment, and collection of the microalgae.

The amounts of sargassum in Puerto Morelos on the beaches grow exponentially. In September 2015, researchers from the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology (ICML) accounted for 2,500 cubic meters of sargassum per kilometer of beach, a figure that in 2018 increased to 275,000 cubic meters in six kilometers of beach.

As of January 1, Puerto Morelos Protocol established the charge for Environmental Sanitation Law, equivalent to 30% of a Measurement and Update Unit (UMA), that is, 25 pesos that tourists pay per hotel night. The resources generated by this right will be significant, given that the municipality has a hotel capacity of 7,000 rooms, and in the holiday season achieves an occupation of 85%.

The money collected by hoteliers, on the beach of Puerto Morelos, was used to place a special berry to contain the sargassum, rent a boat that takes the macroalga from the ocean and buy containers for waste, extraordinary expenses that were previously charged to the local government.

Sargassum is not a solved issue. These companies work to find the best solutions and are on track to have the protocol replicated in the other destinations of the Mexican Caribbean.

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