Cancun seaweed conditions: forecast for a major sargassum arrival

The atmospheric conditions, the direction of the dominant marine currents, and a large amount of pelagic sargassum near the Cancun beaches, will favor a significant recharge of sargassum in Cancun in the next few days, with high to the very high intensity of arrival.

Cancun seaweed update
Cancun seaweed update

According to the Sargasso Monitoring Network, the massive arrival of sargassum to the coasts of Cancun and Quintana Roo started on June 16th and will end on June 24th from Holbox to the south of Xcalak.

According to the observations of the satellite images, which periodically monitor the distribution and abundance of seaweed, the first major impacts will be recorded from Xcalak and Mahahual to Tulum National Park, to which will be added the northern part of Tulum, Playa del Carmen, the East Coast of Cozumel, Puerto Morelos and Punta Nizuc.

The report forecasts that the most important sargassum refueling for Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy, and Holbox will occur during the next few days, depending on the speed and direction of the dominant winds.

They say that the images corresponding to the Sentinel 2 and 3 (A/B) Satellite System of the European Space Agency (ESA), show accumulations of seaweed near the coastline, as well as the graph of the SaWS system of the Optical Oceanography Laboratory, of the University of South Florida.

The above is repeated with the images from Ocean Scope's Sarwatch Beta system and the Windfinder system, which show the direction of the wind, which comes from the South-Southeast and has a speed of 20 kilometers per hour.

This year the sargassum arrived with a delay of four months, which is why practically the 2020 arrival season in the Mexican Caribbean has just formally started.

Meanwhile, according to a study by the Secretariat of the Navy, the arrival of sargassum to the Mexican Caribbean coast will remain at a moderate level. Admiral Rafael Ojeda Duran, Secretary of the Navy, reported that there has been little presence of sargassum in Cancun in 2020.

Punctual attention to beaches in front of sargassum recharge

Due to the increase in sargassum recharge on the coast of Cancun, Federal Maritime Land Zone (ZOFEMAT) and the General Directorate of Public Services, are working together in the collection of seaweed in order to keep the beaches of the destination clean.

According to data from the ZOFEMAT, in May 361 cubic meters of sargassum was removed from the sands, surpassing the figures of the previous four months where the highest figure was registered during February, with 287 cubic meters.

So far in June, 330 cubic meters of the seaweed has been collected in these first seven days, so it will soon become the month with the most sargassum recharge this year. In 2020, more than 1,092 kilograms of the seaweed has been collected, with 'Coral' beach being the most popular.

The Public Services Management announced that every day, from Monday to Sunday, they have 40 elements for the cleaning of the 12 public accesses of the municipality, using seven sweepers and seven sieves for the work.

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 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.

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.

Manual sargassum clean-up on the Cancun beaches. (Twitter @AytoCancun)
Manual sargassum clean-up on the Cancun beaches. (Twitter @AytoCancun)

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 will be used to collect the sargassum, Martinez Flores said that this Wednesday they will have a meeting with the dealers and Rear Admiral Enrique Flores Morado to give the indications of the team.

He said that they have small boats, tractors, sweepers, and a sargsso machine, and added that they will soon announce a schedule of activities and how the tools mentioned will be working.

Finally, he explained that in the case of Xcalac, the collection is different because it is a Natural Protected Area, and the activities will be led by personnel from the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (Conanp).

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.

Sargassum causes increased erosion in Quintana Roo

After the passage of tropical storm Cristóbal, the beaches of the Mexican Caribbean suffered the loss of tons and tons of sand, with the environmental and economic consequences that this implies. Over the years the coastal erosion has become more noticeable. To this are added bad practices in the collection of sargassum, where kilos of sand that goes between the macroalgae are lost daily.

The brown tide causes seaweed to be low in oxygen and to die.

The excessive "contribution" of nutrients to the water decreases its quality and makes it cloudy. The waters of the Mexican Caribbean are oligotrophic waters, that is, very low in nutrients, hence its transparency and characteristic turquoise blue, so that excess nutrients modify its original composition and alter the ecological balance.

One of the main environmental services provided by seaweed is fixing the sand and diluting the force of the sea, which prevents the beaches from degrading. Given the accumulated affectations of several years, what is observed is a greater vulnerability to meteorological phenomena.

During the last five years, sargassum has killed hundreds of hectares of seagrass on the coasts of Quintana Roo, in turn causing serious problems of coastal erosion during weather events.

This degradation will have consequences in the nesting of chelonians throughout the coast, since for the turtles the way of inclination of the beach is of great importance. Also, as they do not have the protection against the force of the sea that the seagrass meadows offer, the nests are exposed to the force of the waves.

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.