Cancun seaweed update, conditions, and forecast 2022 season

Cancun seaweed map and graph, updated as of May 24, 2022, 6:00 am. Throughout this week, moderate to very intense seaweed accumulations are expected to continue to increase in Cancun, from Punta Cancun to Xcalak. We will keep you informed.

Cancun seaweed update, conditions, and forecast 2022 season
This is how it is this Tuesday in Playa Delfines, Cancun, moderate presence of tourists and minimal presence of seaweed. Zofemat staff in permanent cleanup work. Photo: Esmaragdo Camaz

Cancun seaweed map and graph, updated as of May 24, 2022, 6:00 am. With the easterly winds, sargassum is back in several of the monitoring points. It is expected that throughout this week, moderate to very intense seaweed arrivals will increase, from Punta Nizuc to Xcalak, we will keep you informed.

The massive upsurge of seaweed in Cancun continues with 45 of the 138 beaches observed in the state of Quintana Roo, or one-third of them, "with excessive sargassum", according to the Monitoring Network, 29 have "abundant" and there are only seven without the presence of the macroalgae.

The current situation of sargassum distribution in Quintana Roo is mixed, with a tendency for excessive concentration. On Monday, only the islands of Contoy and Mujeres, and Chetumal were free of the seaweed, and three of the 12 tourist destinations in the region report low presence: Holbox, Costa Mujeres, and Cozumel.

Cancun, Riviera Maya, and Mahahual have received moderate seaweed landings and are still considered suitable for recreational activities, while the most affected beaches are in Riviera Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, and Punta Allen, which require "prompt intervention to clean up their coasts".

The large quantities of sargassum that have landed in Mahahual and Xcalak "have put the authorities in check" because there is not enough machinery and disposal sites for the seaweed, as well as a management plan, and service providers consider that the legislation needs to be modified.

And not even the anti-sargassum barrier installed in the bay of Mahahual to try to contain the seaweed, in addition to the artisanal ones installed by some tourist service providers, has worked, because all the actions have been insufficient in the face of the enormous wave of the plant that continues to come ashore.

Cancun Seaweed Map and Color Chart. Updated on May 24, 2022.
Cancun Seaweed Map and Color Chart. Updated on May 24, 2022. The red color indicates beaches with excessive amounts of seaweed in Cancun. Green means none or very low. Orange and yellow range from abundant to moderate levels of sargassum in Cancun. Image: Quintana Roo Sargassum Monitoring Network

More to come

So far in May, there have been frequent arrivals, but by 15 or 20 days it will intensify even more because the amount of seaweed that is accumulating in the Cancun and Riviera Maya area is much larger than the amount that was concentrated two and one month ago. The large volume that is approaching marks a tendency to move more towards the north of the state; in other words, this time it will affect Cancun's sandy areas, which until now had been well spared.

Sargassum boats, boats, barriers, nets, conveyor belts, tractors, and hundreds of men and women extract the thousands of tons of seaweed that arrive at their shores, but also more arrives every day. The amount of seaweed is such that dozens of boats are docked in the middle of the vegetation because they cannot be used; the more adventurous ones deviate because the sea cannot be avoided, they pass over it and the engine gets stuck.

Apart from removing the seaweed in Cancun, authorities carry out other activities such as sieving the sandy areas, both mechanically and manually, to keep the beaches clean. The beaches preferred by tourists and locals are Playa Delfines, better known as "El Mirador", and El Niño, in Puerto Juárez.

Sargassum map and semaphore for today in Quintana Roo.
Sargassum map and semaphore for today in Quintana Roo. The red color indicates beaches with excessive amounts of seaweed. Green means none or very low. Orange and yellow range from abundant to moderate levels of sargassum in Quintana Roo. Image: Observatorio Ciudadano Sargazo

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.

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

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.

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, while sargassum boats are carrying out the collection, and tractors and land sweepers are ready on land.

Navy seaweed vessel cheks up on seaweed in the Cancun area next to the sargassum barrier.
Navy seaweed vessel cheks up on seaweed in the Cancun area next to the sargassum barrier. Photo: Francisco Y Alex Barba

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