A significant amount of sargassum is approaching the Mexican Caribbean

A significant amount of sargassum approaches the vicinity of the Mexican Caribbean coastline, as a spot extends from the Lesser Antilles arc to the Yucatan Peninsula, with the sargassum harvest continuing in the coming days with an average intensity of high, affecting mainly the destinations of the central and southern coast of Quintana Roo.

Puerto Morelos, Tulum, Solidaridad, Othon P. Blanco, Lázaro Cárdenas and Cancún are the municipalities of Quintana Roo most affected by the massive arrival of seaweed
Puerto Morelos, Tulum, Solidaridad, Othon P. Blanco, Lázaro Cárdenas and Cancún are the municipalities of Quintana Roo most affected by the massive arrival of seaweed

In its report on the distribution and abundance of sargassum in the North and South Zone of Quintana Roo, where Cancun and Riviera Maya are located, the Early Warning System of Massive Arrival of Sargazo warned that the range of affectation covers a stretch of 500 km of coastal coastline.

This stretch would cover from Isla Blanca to the North, to the Canal de Zaragoza, in Xcalak, southern border with Belize, and it affects with greater intensity the central and southern region of the State, while it also reported dominant winds from the Southeast, conditions that act in synergy and carry sargassum in moderate to high intensity, especially towards the central and southern coast of Quintana Roo, at least for the next 72 hours.

"Sargassum Island" threatens the coasts of Quintana Roo
"Sargassum Island" threatens the coasts of Quintana Roo

In the area of ​​beaches of Cancun, from Punta Cancun to Punta Nizuc, the seaweed beds of medium to high intensity will continue, at least for 72 hours more, especially the areas adjacent to Punta Nizuc (Coral Beach) and Punta Cancun (Playa Gaviota Azul, Chac-Mool and Plaza Fórum).

In the Municipality of Isla Mujeres sargassum beds will be of medium to high-intensity today, with an impact on the continental region, mainly in the area of ​​Isla Blanca, Costa Mujeres, Playa Mujeres, Punta Sam, Playa del Niño and Puerto Juarez. Low to medium intensity landings are expected in the insular zone, especially on its east coast.

From the coastal area south of Punta Nizuc, in Cancún, and to the south, from Bahía Petempich to Puerto Morelos, the arrivals will be medium to high intensity in the next 72 hours.

Image: Sectur Quintana Roo
Image: Sectur Quintana Roo

For the municipalities of Solidaridad (Playa del Carmen), Cozumel (Eastern Coast), Tulum (Archaeological Zone, Hotel Zone, Mayan Arch, Boca Paila and Punta Allen), Felipe Carrillo Puerto (Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve), Bacalar (only the Coastal Zone) and Othón P. Blanco (Mahahual, Xcalak and Bahía de Chetumal), will follow the medium to high intensity beds, the next 72 hours.

Among the beaches free of seaweed or with moderate sargassum are: Holbox-Center and Holbox-Punta Cocos, Isla Contoy, Isla Mujeres North Beach to Playa Mia, Cancun North Zone: Playa Linda, Las Perlas, Lobster, Turtles and Snail and North Cozumel , Chankaanab, Mia Beach, Palancar and El Cielo, as well as the Bacalar Lagoon.

Due to the massive arrival of sargassum to the coasts of the Mexican Caribbean, the Tourism Promotion Council of Quintana Roo (CPTQ) has opted to modify its strategy of promotion abroad, by eliminating the images of beaches and promoting alternative activities. These alternative activities are focused on Mayan archaeological zones, cenotes, theme parks, Mexican cuisine, shopping plazas, among others.

In the case of Tulum, this destination has been one of the exceptions in the elimination of beach images for its tourist promotion; One of the main attractions of the area is precisely the combination of the ruins with the Caribbean Sea.

Recommended stories

Sargassum is a serious threat to the cenotes

The cenotes pay very dearly the price of being the "plan B" of tourists who can not go to the beach since it is affected by sargassum. On the one hand, they become overcrowded, and on the other, the inadequate final handling of the algae causes the chemicals it releases to reach these bodies of water and contaminate them.

For Alejandro López Tamayo, coordinator of scientific research and conservation in Centinelas del Agua, the cenote is an entity with virtually no identity, as it is not even included in the national water law with its own definition.

The inadequate final disposal of sargassum is a problem that directly affects these bodies of water; "We have identified clandestine sargasso landfills and we have already identified the leachates that it produces". Some sites already have eight or 10 months acting as dumps without being suitable for it; that is, they do not have a geomembrane that prevents the chemicals produced from entering the subsoil and reaching underground water bodies.

The researcher recalled that the decomposition of sargassum "has traces of arsenic and generates hydrogen sulfide, which promotes that the rock is diluted much faster and the decomposition of organic matter is reaching the aquifer."

"We are doing a vicious cycle that we must attend: we are removing the problem from the coast and taking it to the jungle, therefore it enters the aquifer and from there it goes back to the coast."

The sites for final disposal of sargassum should be prepared as if they were a conventional garbage dump, with a geomembrane that captures leakages and allows them to be treated. The cenotes do not have the same capacity to regenerate other bodies of water, such as the oceans: "a body of underground water, once it is contaminated, is almost impossible to remedy."

Quintana Roo has between 1,300 and 1,500 kilometers of underground rivers and in the Yucatan Peninsula, there are approximately six to ten thousand cenotes, two thousand 500 of them in the state.

Without regulation

One of the goals of environmentalists is that the new national water law defines the concept of karstic system and cenotes because, despite their importance, they are not included in the documents. From there, it is possible to establish the appropriate regulations and avoid their contamination, which is why they participate in the analysis forums to integrate a new national water law.

"If we do not have these regulations, we will reach the overcrowding of a cenote and we do not know its capacity, some are already receiving more tourists than they can support."

Being a body of groundwater, the management of the cenote must be different from that of a body of surface water but they are still seen as a "shallow lagoon".

"We need to generate regulations that allow for better practices to maintain the sustainable use of cenotes. Inspection and surveillance are needed, and a management program is requested from the providers of tourist services in these places." In Quintana Roo only two municipalities have their own regulations: Tulum and Solidarity.

How to avoid overcrowding

With the sargassum covering the beaches, the cenotes are seen as an entertainment option, but this implies that more nutrients are entering these bodies of water: 

"If before two or three people entered the day maybe the same underground water system I could dilute it little by little, but if you add a thousand people to that same cenote a day, they are already higher concentrations of chemical elements."

As part of the practices to avoid contamination is that the visitors do not enter with chemical elements in the body, such as gel, creams or blockers. Some of the damage is already visible: in some bodies of water, there is erosion in the surrounding soils. The challenge is to achieve official Mexican standards specific to the region, for the management and sustainable use of cenotes.

Source: La Jornada Maya

Vacationers avoid the Caribbean beaches because of sargassum and choose Pacific destinations instead

Due to the strong problem of sargassum on the beaches of the Mexican Caribbean, travelers are looking for alternative destinations free of this macroalga to vacation, mainly in the Pacific area. Travelers are visiting the Pacific area such as Mazatlan, Los Cabos, Puerto Escondido, Puerto Vallarta, and Acapulco.

According to the Kayak travel metasearch, searches for five destinations located at that end of the country have increased considerably compared to last year: Mazatlan, Los Cabos, Puerto Escondido, Puerto Vallarta, and Acapulco.

The city of Mazatlan, Sinaloa, was the one with the highest growth in searches, reported with 107 percent; it is followed by Los Cabos, Baja California, with 90 percent; Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, with 83 percent; Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, with 75 percent, and Acapulco, Guerrero, with 47 percent.

The site compared all searches made by its users during the period from January to May 2018 and this year, also took into account the travel dates selected in these from May to October of both years to determine the increase.

According to data from the Secretariat of Tourism of Quintana Roo, its main destinations presented a fall in hotel occupancy during the month of April, the whole of Cancun and Puerto Morelos was the most affected with 5.9 percentage points less. In reports of the Mexican Association of Travel Agencies (AMAV) reflected a fall at the state level of six percent.

For the time being, sargassum does not seem to give up in the state of Quintana Roo, because, as reported by the Monitoring Network of Sargazo Cancún, a massive arrival of the macroalga in the intensity of moderate to very high in the next 72 hours is expected. the central and southern coast.

The most affected area is Cancún and continues through the Mayan Riviera, the sargassum beds range from Punta Cancún to Punta Nizuc, in Isla Mujeres the seaweed arrival will be of moderate intensity.

Hoteliers have increased activities for tourists within their facilities, in addition to communicating which points of the coastal area are clean to visit or share as an alternative the more than 200 activities outside the beach that improve the experience of visitors, such as ecological tours with visits to jungle cenotes and archaeological zones.

Manuel Paredes, executive director of the Association of Hotels of the Riviera Maya (AHRM), said that it is necessary to act jointly, private initiative and authorities, for the integral management of sargassum, issue early warnings and execute their collection at sea.

It is projected that by June or July, the sargassum arrival will happen every eight days.

"We are going to have very intense (sargassum) arrivals," said the hydrobiologist who, along with 12 other people with different specialties, collaborates with local authorities to prevent the arrival of this seaweed to the coast of the state.

Sargassum invasion in the Caribbean grows and puts tourism industry at risk

Rating agency Moody's said recently unusually high amounts have been registered that researchers attribute to climate change and pollution of the seas.

The increasing invasion of seaweeds that give off a bad smell when they rot on the shores of beaches in the Mexican Caribbean threatens the tourist industry of the second Latin American economy because it can discourage the arrival of travelers.

Although the phenomenon caused by these brown seaweed, called 'sargassum', began to manifest itself atypically almost five years ago, recently unusually high amounts have been recorded that researchers attribute to climate change and pollution of the seas.

"Recent experience has shown that negative images can quickly discourage travelers in an industry that relies heavily on user-generated content and online reservations," Moody's said in a report.

The firm anticipates that the invasion will probably worsen this summer, will affect hotel demand and threaten the income of some of its clients, such as the company Playa Resorts, the Cancun International Airport, the Mayab Highway and the Quintana Roo state, highly dependent on tourism.

If this is not controlled and these images of sargassum continue to invade the beaches and the sea of ​​Cancun, it could quickly have a more significant effect ..

At the beginning of May, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced that the Government was working in coordination with the federal and regional authorities, with the support of the Secretary of the Navy, in a coordinated plan to resolve the problem.

"Mexico should intensify its efforts to protect the tourism industry," Moody's said, adding that Mexico still does not have entities responsible for studying sargassum, nor has it provided details about the measures or the budget that will be allocated to it.

There is already a slowdown in state tourism when considering the arrival of international passengers at the airport in Cancun, which fell by 1.8% between January and April at an annual rate, and traffic on the Mayab Highway, which grew by 6.4% in the period after having increased 14.3% in 2018.

How hoteliers in Quintana Roo fight against sargassum

According to the Monitoring Network of Sargazo Cancun, in recent days the Riviera Maya, Cancun, Moon Palace, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen and Playacar areas, among others, recorded an excessive level of sargassum, a situation that complicates the operation of the hotels with access to the beach.

The companies seek to contain the arrival of seaweed with boats, while in a second stage the beaches are cleaned. The government of Quintana Roo assured that it will activate the Emerging Protocol for the Attention of Sargasso.

The Palace Resorts chain, which manages the Moon Palace hotel, hires gangs of young people who pick up microalgae with shovels and rake, measures that are only momentary because the problem does not take long to return. But the results were momentary and had unintended consequences, since the sweeping machines took the sand along with the Sargasso, eroding the beaches. The Posadas Group, which manages the hotels Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun and Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun, ensures that it has the measures to remove this alga from the adjoining beaches.

In the Sargasso season, young people enter the sea during the early hours of the morning to remove this vegetation before the sun appears, because by morning the material begins to rot and emanate a strong decomposed aroma.

The operation of removing sargassum from the beach is complicated. When it begins to decompose, that produces bad odors and, when it is collected, the sand is removed, which causes the erosion of the beach. The ideal is to withdraw it from the sea, but it requires specialized vessels technology and many resources.

The Navy performs operations to contain sargassum by sea and air

With different boats, helicopters and different types of containment barriers and networks, Semar supports actions to contain the atypical phenomenon of sargassum.

Image: Semar
Image: Semar

With different vessels, helicopters and different types of containment barriers and networks, the Navy-Navy Secretariat of Mexico supports actions to contain the atypical phenomenon of sargassum that affects the Mexican Caribbean coasts in the State of Quintana Roo.

Within more actions that are carried out in the "Operation Sargazo 2019", it is to give conferences with Biologists of this Secretariat to the personnel that works in this activity with the purpose that they know the characteristics, origin, and impact of the sargassum phenomenon, as well same security measures for handling.

Overflights are also carried out with a Panther type helicopter in order to recognize and collect information about the areas most affected by this phenomenon.

With the units that are used, different types of containment barriers and networks have been deployed, in which 10 tons of sargassum have been collected in two days, covering a total of approximately 13 cubic meters between the areas of Punta Cancún and Punta Nizuc, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, and Tulum.

Image: Semar
Image: Semar

The elements of the Navy of Mexico, in addition to collecting, an inspection is also made to the sargassum with the purpose of verifying that there are no species of fish and mollusks. Within Operation Sargasso 2019, builds a conveyor belt for the collection of sargassum, for storage in sacks or containers, with reuse material.

Initially, the Navy seeks to contain the arrival of seaweed through sea vessels, while in a second stage the cleaning of the beaches with the participation of the public sector. Hoteliers in the region also work on a plan to prevent the tons of sargassum that damaged their operations last year and is already a huge problem this summer.