New wave of seaweed in Playa del Carmen is feared to continue to grow

08/03/2021

The coast of Playa del Carmen is threatened by the arrival of large quantities of seaweed, since the winds from the southeast have increased the influx of the algae, as reported by the Secretary of the tourist cooperative Mar Caribe and they fear the affectations that this can bring again to tourism.

"We are in increasingly worse consciences, the sargassum is arriving again and there is fear that it will arrive in that serious way as it was in 2019, or in 2016, hopefully not, we are waiting and monitoring that it does not happen again," said José Gómez Burgos, secretary of the Mar Caribe tourist cooperative.

The presence of the seaweed has been observed in part of the coast of Playa del Carmen, from Playacar to Xcalacoco. According to the Sargasso Monitoring Network, there are already some points of the coast of Playa del Carmen with the arrival of sargassum, although moderate, there is concern about the effects it can bring to tourism in the region, as reported by Sipse.

According to forecasts by the Secretary of the Mexican Navy, in 2021 the arrival of sargassum seaweed would be low. In January, Mexico's Secretary of the Navy (Semar) announced that seaweed arrivals were expected to be low on the Caribbean and Quintana Roo coasts during 2021, good news for Cancun's tourism in the midst of the pandemic.

Semar explained at the time that this is because last December, which forecasts the amount of sargassum that will arrive in the first quarter of 2021, there was no significant presence of seaweed in the Western Central Atlantic and Eastern Caribbean.

80% progress on sargassum cleanup

Thanks to a timely strategy against the arrival of sargassum to Solidaridad's coasts, the Federal Maritime Terrestrial Zone (Zofemat) has removed more than 89 tons of the 100 that have arrived on the beaches since Friday, February 26th, which represents an advance of 80% in the cleaning of the municipality's sandy beaches.

This was confirmed by the director of Zofemat, Marco Loeza Pacheco, who explained that these maintenance tasks are carried out from the fiscal dock to Punta Esmeralda beach, with a staff of 90 people, in order to keep the coastline in optimal conditions.

It is important to highlight that the atypical arrival was generated due to the change originated by the southeast winds with gusts of approximately 45 km/h, and according to the forecasts, this week will continue with the same tendency due to the predominance of these gusts.

Sargassum comes from Africa and reaches the part of the Amazon where it begins to nourish, rapidly increasing its volume, and then continue advancing until it reaches the beaches of Quintana Roo.

The seaweed problem is not exclusive to the state, it is a natural phenomenon present in several parts of the world and even in several areas its arrival is greater, however, it can be emphasized that no one has achieved as much progress as Mexico in the fight against this macroalgae.

The Sargasso Monitoring Network publishes daily on Facebook how to find all the beaches in the state regarding the arrival of the sargassum.

Sargasso can be harmful to humans

Sargassum, which has been arriving massively in the Mexican Caribbean since 2014, contains arsenic, copper, manganese, and molybdenum, substances that in high concentrations are harmful to humans and wildlife, said Rosa Elisa Rodríguez Martínez, a researcher at the UNAM Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology.

A study of 63 samples of the macroalgae also found aluminum, calcium, chlorine, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, lead, rubidium, sulfur, silicon, strontium, thorium, uranium, vanadium and zinc, among others.

"While some of these elements are essential nutrients, others can be toxic. The one of greatest concern is arsenic, because it was detected in all the samples collected, and in most of the tests it exceeds the maximum permitted limits," she said.

The sargassum began to arrive on the coast of Quintana Roo in late 2014, which intensified in 2015, and by 2018 the volume was exaggerated to continue until September 2019.

The expert from the Academic Unit of Reef Systems, based in Puerto Morelos, warned that in the last four years millions of tons arrived, and very few were removed; their accumulation and decomposition severely affect coastal ecosystems, beaches, coral reefs, seagrasses, mangroves and possibly the aquifer, which is the only source of freshwater in the region.

"Since 2015 we have begun to see the mortality of seaweed stuck to the coast, due to a large amount of organic matter and bacterial activity resulting from the decomposition of these algae, which by the action of the waves return to the sea turning it brown, clouding the water, reducing the amount of oxygen and light, and increasing the levels of sulfur, nitrate, and ammonia. This deterioration in water quality results in the plants not being able to carry out photosynthesis and dying," she explained.

In 2018, the mortality of marine fauna like fish, crustaceans, and mollusks began to be recorded. Also the deterioration of corals, as a result of an epidemic called "white syndrome", and although it is not proven that it is associated with sargassum, "we know that the low quality of the water contributes to the death of these organisms.

Considering the results obtained, Rosa Elisa Rodríguez Martínez recommended analyzing the accumulation of toxic elements in sargassum before using it in the food and pharmaceutical industry, or avoiding its use.

"It is necessary to find adequate ways to manage it, so that it does not deteriorate our beaches or other coastal ecosystems, as well as the aquifer. Efficient management will also avoid affecting Quintana Roo's economy, because it has impacted tourism due to its bad appearance, bad smell and probable skin irritation," she commented.