Cancun seaweed conditions: beaches are free of sargassum

Cancun seaweed update: The Secretary of Ecology and Environment of Quintana Roo (SEMA) announced that the massive arrival season of sargassum on the state's coasts has ended, so they will be free for the rest of 2020. Sargasso-free beaches are located in Isla Mujeres, Chiquilá, Isla Contoy, and Cozumel.

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

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.

Before declaring the end of the season, Enrique Flores Morado, Rear Admiral of the Navy Secretariat (Semar) and coordinator of the anti-sarging strategy in Quintana Roo, said that there are already six barges and more than 80 people operating to serve the points of greatest algae recharge in the state.

"The efforts are concentrated in 40 beaches that have an overall length of 32,000 linear meters, of which 12 are located in the municipality of Benito Juarez (where Cancun is located)," he said.

Until the first half of the year, he said, more than 9,132 tons of seaweed were collected from the beaches, of which more than 6,000 were registered during May and June of this year.

The Cancun Sargasso Monitoring Network indicated that with the images obtained from the beaches, the 2020 sargasso season is practically over, since only isolated and very low intensity recharges are expected, so the beaches would remain in green and blue.

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

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

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.

2020 Cancun seaweed map: Green: low presence, Red: strong, excessive presence, Orange: abundant presence, Yellow: moderate presence, Turquoise: clean. Image credit: Cancun Sargassum Network
2020 Cancun seaweed map: Green: low presence, Red: strong, excessive presence, Orange: abundant presence, Yellow: moderate presence, Turquoise: clean. Image credit: Cancun Sargassum Network

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.

How Mexicans combat sargassum

When the health emergency ends, the next challenge for the State of Quintana Roo is to defeat the invasion of the seaweed. According to the forecast of the Secretariat of the Navy (Semar), its arrival will be of the same intensity as in 2019, so there is already a strategy to attend to the phenomenon and it starts in all the affected areas.

The strategy that will follow in the southern area of the state during a predicted long season of arrival of sargassum, which provides a minor impact on the tourism sector, because in 2019 they were exceeded by the sargassum, since its collection was done manually.

The protocols to be followed were established by the Navy, and it is stipulated that the concessionaires must keep their beachfront free of sargassum, that the municipality must attend to cleaning the coast, beaches, and public areas, while the Navy will do the same at sea.

According to the monitoring and forecasts of that authority, the arrival of the sargassum will be more intense than last year at the end of May, so during this and the following week the Dakatso company will place the containment barriers in Mahahual.

Regarding the machines that are used to collect the sargassum, they have small boats, tractors, sweepers, and a sargassum machine.

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.