Cancun seaweed update, conditions, and forecast 2022

Keep up-to-date with the most recent information on the seaweed conditions in Cancun and the sargassum forecast updates report in the Riviera Maya and the Mexican Caribbean.

Cancun seaweed update, conditions, and forecast 2022
Cancun beaches this morning are clean of seaweed. Credit: Júlia Roscoe

It will be until the middle or end of December of this year that the seaweed arrivals in Cancun will be over. Satellite images show large quantities of sargassum in the Atlantic Ocean.

The sargassum currently forms a belt from the north of Brazil, passing through the Antilles, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti, part of Cuba, the Yucatan Peninsula, to Florida. These are more than 10 thousand kilometers that make up the great sargassum belt in the Atlantic.

Some studies carried out by the University of South Florida indicate that the sargassum will arrive by the end of 2022 and not at the end of next September as planned.

This is because the concentrated sargassum shown in the satellite images will take about three or four months to reach the Mexican coasts, which means that the drift will occur until mid or late December. This also means that the 2022 season, which has already beaten the records for the 2018 season, will practically tie with next year's season, which starts in February.

More sargassum is expected to arrive from Punta Cancun to Xcalak, but it will be more concentrated in Tulum, and Playa del Carmen, while in Cancun the most affected beaches will be those closest to the south, such as Delfines, and Marlín. For this reason, both the workers of the municipalities, as well as the sargassum boats of the Secretary of the Navy, will have to reinforce the work of collecting seaweed in Cancun both on the beaches and in the sea.

Latest Cancun sargassum seaweed update. Date: September 22, 2022
Latest Cancun sargassum seaweed update. Date: September 22, 2022: blue flag - no seaweed, green - very low, yellow - moderate, orange - abundant, and red - excessive amounts of seaweed on the certified beaches. Data: Zofemat. Map data: INEGI 2022

Hoteliers battle seaweed in Cancun

Cancun hoteliers invest around half a million dollars in the containment and cleaning of the beaches due to the arrival of the seaweed during the eight months that the incidence of seaweed lasts in the areas. This cost for the hotels is represented in the barriers anchored to the sea, the daily maintenance, the displacement of machinery, and the hiring of workers to collect the seaweed on the beaches daily, both in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

When does the seaweed season start in Cancun?

Seaweed in Cancun can arrive throughout the year as a result of the movement of currents in the Sargasso Sea, but its presence is greater in the warmer months between March, April, May, and June. This is due to the formation of sargassum and the constant movement of the same increased by changes in the sea caused by global warming and pollution of the oceans, causing the macroalgae to arrive in large quantities.

How Mexicans combat seaweed in Cancun

Specialized machinery such as seven sweepers coupled to agricultural tractors and special units for the removal of the seaweed and its transfer to the final destination. Manual sieving machines allow the removal of solid waste such as bottle caps, cigarette butts, microplastics, and glass, among others, which come ashore along with the seaweed. Sargassum collection points have been set aside on the sandy beaches of Playa del Niño, Playa Las Perlas, Playa Delfines, and Playa Coral, for drying and screening, for subsequent transfer to the final site.

Cancun coasts are constantly being cleaned from the seaweed.
Cancun coasts are constantly being cleaned from the seaweed. Photo: Atenea Gomez Ricalde

Monitoring and detection of seaweed in Cancun

The Ministry of the Navy is monitoring sargassum in the Caribbean Sea, to contain the seaweed. The Oceanographic Institute of the Gulf and the Caribbean Sea monitors this phenomenon and has determined the elaboration of meteorological forecasts of the conditions that occur in the Caribbean and of the seaweed patches on the high seas.  Reconnaissance flights are carried out by Mexican Navy aircraft to check for any patches of seaweed that may reach the Mexican coasts. Coastal vessels are carrying out surveillance actions, sargassum boats are carrying out the collection, and tractors and land sweepers are ready on land.

What is sargassum and where does it come from?

Sargassum is a large macroalga, meadow, or dark green color, which grows 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 on the paradisiacal beaches of the Mexican Caribbean and pose a real threat to the tourist interests of the region.

The seaweed 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 on the seas and Caribbean coasts, where there are irregular settlements and inadequate treatment of sewage and greywater.

The seaweed 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 to the seaweed problem

Sargassum can be used as fuel, energy generator, fertilizer, and animal feed, and has become useful raw material in several industries which could leave great contributions to Mexico. From the problem that brought the arrival of seaweed 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 whose impact will be long-term.

Sargassum has recently been used in the preparation of blocks or bricks to be used in construction. 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 seaweed would be used and create 2,150 blocks of this seaweed, which represents a relief because it will not be treated as waste.

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

Sources: SEMAR, ZOFEMAT, La Verdad Noticias, SIPSE, Red Sargazo