Wind drives away the sargassum from Playa del Carmen

Playacar beach on June 20. Image: Grupo Sargazo FB
Playacar beach on June 20. Image: Grupo Sargazo FB

The rain this weekend and the northeasterly winds helped the beaches of the first square of Playa del Carmen dawn free of sargassum.

In many places, it is possible to enjoy the characteristic turquoise color of the sea even in the most affected places, such as Fundadores beach and the bend.

The forecast of the National Water Commission for Quintana Roo this day is of conditions of cloudy skies with probability for showers with punctually strong storms dispersed in the north of the state.

The temperatures will be warm at dawn and very hot during the day, with easterly winds changing in the afternoon to the northeast from 15 to 25 km / h and gusts greater than 45 km / h in coasts.

Playa del Carmen from the Fiscal Pier

The gusts of wind could exceed 50 km / h.

Barriers to contain seaweed arrival
Barriers to contain seaweed arrival

Intensify extraction of sargassum in beaches of Quintana Roo

In Quintana Roo, the extraction of sargassum on the beaches was intensified by the forecasts of a new arrival that will not be an atypical problem but recurrent in the Mexican Caribbean.

With satellite information, the information that has specialists in oceanography, movement of winds, most likely we have an important arrival, from one more week, "said Víctor Alcérreca, general director of the Quintana Roo Council of Science and Technology.

"It is a problem that is growing, every 2 years it has a recurrence of 2 years and every 2 years it is worse, it is increasing, we have a real problem of climate change and sargassum is linked to this", said Alejandra Navarrete, Ocean director Foundation in Mexico.

Playa del Carmen, Mahahual, Tulum and the southern border with Belize, are the communities most affected by sargassum, where the new mass of algae that travels across the Atlantic to the Caribbean Sea is directed.

The hotel sector points out that sargassum is a real problem that already causes losses with business closures and lower rates.

Some restaurants, especially in the south, which are very in front of the sea, because of the smell, have had to close their doors. We had to lower rates, there was a lot of nervousness in the sector, between 15 and 25 percent, "said Roberto Cintrón, president of the Association of Hotels in Quintana Roo.

The hotel occupancy in Quintana Roo is 78 percent compared to the more than 100 thousand hotel rooms.

The northern area of Quintana Roo, such as Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, and Holbox, are the communities with the lowest concentration of sargassum.

Sargassum "eats" the beaches

The white sand of the Mexican Caribbean has turned into mud. Sargassum is causing beaches to be lost.

The beach "El Recodo", one of the most visited in Playa del Carmen, has disappeared. The construction of a hotel began its decline, the sargassum and the machinery to remove the algae accelerated the erosion.

Located in the old part of the city, the emblematic beach that shined last year today is mud and the pestilent smell predominates in the place. Few tourists dare to go through the area. Shops look empty, others have closed.

The activity collapses. In the area there cannot be because people can not walk in these conditions, they can not get on boats and the boats can not run more to the shore because it is impossible," says José Gómez Burgos, president of the fishermen's cooperative from Playa del Carmen.

"It is one of the areas that is considered a priority for beach recovery, for recovery of sandy areas that for economic reasons has not been able to carry out," says Alfredo Arellano, Secretary of Ecology and Environment of Quintana Roo,

To prevent sargassum from continuing to cause damage in Playa del Carmen, containment barriers were placed this week.

Source: Televisa

Sargassum endangers three species of turtles

The massive arrival of sargassum to the beaches of Solidaridad is a headache for visitors not only because of the bad odors it causes or to contaminate the water at the start of putrefaction but because of the risk it means for four turtle species that will begin arriving at the sandy areas.

The presence of the algae is a risk for the turtles that will begin their arrival in May, warns veterinarian.
The presence of the algae is a risk for the turtles that will begin their arrival in May, warns veterinarian.

According to veterinarian Juanjo Bolaños, the issue is complicated because Punta Esmeralda, for example, is the beach that uses three species of turtle to spawn from May to November and which are the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), green (Chelonia mydas) and the Laud (Dermochelys coriacea).

The veterinarian explains that the presence of the sargassum puts the turtles at risk because of the temperature of the beaches increases, where the turtles bury their eggs, causing an imbalance in the habitat. That same sargassum makes it difficult for turtles to reach the sea after they hatch, and even dry seaweed mixed with sand allows predators or pests to destroy nests.

Punta Esmeralda Beach is also the favorite place of the people and today it showed a lot of visitors registering around 13 thousand, a figure that could be overcome during the day, according to estimates of the staff that works at the site.

With facilities open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., the beach with the most demand in the Riviera Maya looked full early on, especially with locals and national tourism that enjoys the cenote that springs up next to the sandbanks of the site.

However, the sargassum brought by the north wind accumulates on the shore of the beach causing unpleasant odors due to decomposition, despite the fact that between 80 and 100 tons of algae are removed per day, according to Zofemat.

Navy ships and volunteers collect sargassum in Playa del Carmen

The government of Solidarity (where the town of Playa del Carmen is located), hand in hand with the Federation and the support of hoteliers, began the implementation of a comprehensive strategy to contain the sargassum, from the high seas and on land.

There is an agreement to assign two Navy vessels, which will be in charge of collecting the largest amount of seaweed from the high seas, while the municipal government will be responsible for placing barriers and containment structures in 21 strategic points where it has detected the largest amount of seaweed.

One of the Navy ships, which is already in the area, said it will focus its activity on the Zaragoza Canal and from there to the coasts of Solidaridad. Another Navy vessel would arrive in two months, to join these tasks, while the institution begins the manufacture of boats or barges made especially to contain the algae.

"With the arrival of the two vessels, we estimate that 60 or 70% may be contained and the rest will surely land on the coasts of Solidaridad, from where the remaining 30% will be collected through containment barriers and special structures, as well as by land manually and with tractors, by the Zofemat", informed the director of the Federal Maritime Terrestrial Zone

He also stressed that in the coastal zone they will place sargassum containment structures in seven strategic zones.

"We are also going to put resources such as amphibious bombs, sargassum conveyor belts to remove it from the sands and it is the best strategy".

The seaweed exceeded the capacity of the authorities, so in this effort, the three orders of government are added applying strategies and resources that mitigate the arrival of the macroalgae, at the same time that hotels in the coastal zone contribute with their collection.

Around 100 tons of sargassum are removed every day in Playa del Carmen

The paradisiacal beaches are stained with sargassum, opaque by the massive invasion of this macroalga, which scares off tourists and discourages merchants. The dawn is no longer turquoise blue, it has turned brown and smells foul.

Around 100 tons of sargassum are removed every day in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo. There are more than 80 workers, hired by the company Ar.Co, who from 6:00 in the morning wage a battle against this seaweed, use trenches and shovels to erase the footsteps of the enemy that the current throws in each wave.

"It's an endless task, but what else can we do, we arrived early to give a 'little hand of cat' to the beach, take what we can, before the tourists arrive and get scared or disappointed," says Monica Martinez, 45 years old, who works in the cleaning of the coast.

For eight hours, the sargaceros "sweep" 15 linear meters (49.2 feet) of coastline, pile piles in the sand, while others transport in cartloads kilos of this seaweed to form a giant mound that later a construction excavator removes from the beach.

The day is exhausting for workers because a cubic meter of wet sargassum weighs up to 200 kilograms (440.9 lbs).

"After two weeks your back hurts, apart from giving us gloves, face masks, nothing. We walk barefoot fighting against the algae ", adds Monica, who, like her colleagues, receives 5 thousand pesos (USD 263.95) a month for her services.

"The sargassum is changing our lives. Until a few months ago I was engaged in the rental of snorkeling equipment and up to 100 clients per day. Now it is impossible, see how sowed the water is, it seems chapopote ", says Fabián Escalona, ​​boatman.

The situation is aggravated when this seaweed is not removed the same day, a nauseating stench begins to emerge. In some stretches of the beach, what used to be white sand is now a carpet covered with sargassum, there are even parts that have become a quagmire, a small swamp on the coast that is difficult to cross.

The problem of sargassum is not new since 2015 its arrival had been registered although in smaller quantities. But global warming changed its traditional distribution and caused the main destination to be Mexico.

When it rots on the shore, it releases gases and pollutants that filter into the subsoil: leached with high amounts of phosphorus or nitrogen that return to the water and endanger the marine flora and fauna.

"They have endeavored to clean the area near the dock, but others have been neglected, in the part that gives to 14th Street north the smell is unbearable, the sargassum takes more than a week," recalls Fabián.

"Who will want to eat in front of the beach when it smells so ugly? I understand that it is something of nature and that it is inevitable, but the authorities should help us more, I think they could make a bigger effort. The holidays are approaching and we live on tourism, to whom we are going to sell if people do not want to come, "says Maribel Gutiérrez, owner of a restaurant by the sea.

Tourism represents 8.7% of the national GDP and is the main economic activity of Quintana Roo. Therefore, the municipal government of Playa del Carmen (Solidaridad) paid 11 million pesos to Ar.Co to contain the arrival of seaweed. The company installed a barrier of 2.5 kilometers in the sea, but the efforts have been insufficient.

Hoteliers in the area have also joined to stop the problem, have asked their staff to adhere, every 15 days, to the cleanup days. Although the ideal method is to use machinery to remove the algae, this would damage the sand on the beach. So far, carving and shovel are the only options.

As much as they clean, the brown color and the stench have adhered to the landscape of Playa del Carmen. When the sun goes down, the workers leave the tools and go home to rest, knowing that the next day the sargassum will be there as if they had never started.

By Agencies