Sargassum Influx in Puerto Morelos: Public Beaches Clean

The government of Puerto Morelos, in coordination with the Mexican Navy, is working to clean up public beaches affected by the early arrival of sargassum. Efforts are being made to prepare for the next arrival season in March.

Sargassum Influx in Puerto Morelos: Public Beaches Clean
Latest seaweed conditions in Puerto Morelos. Credit: Sargasso Network

Due to the early growth of sargassum along the coast of Quintana Roo, the government of Puerto Morelos sent its Federal Maritime and Terrestrial Zone (Zofemat) and Public Services departments to clean up public beaches even more.

The head of Zofemat, Gerardo Rosas García explained that in coordination with the Secretariats of the Navy (Semar), of the Mexican Government, and Ecology and Environment (SEMA), of the State Government, they continue working on the planning of the next arrival season of the macroalgae, which is scheduled to begin in March, although recently there has been an early arrival in smaller quantities.

"We are removing the sargassum that is arriving with Zofemat's staff of workers, who join the Public Services crews, in addition to preparing for the maintenance of machinery and tools, as well as assisting the Ministry of the Navy with the sargassum barriers and the vessels that lift the seaweed in shallow waters," he said.

For his part, the general director of public services, Leonel Salazar Trejo, pointed out that this weekend a little more than 60 tons of sargassum were collected on the destination's public beaches, in what has been an atypical arrival of the macroalgae.

"There is constant watch on our coasts to keep the beaches of the municipality in good shape so that residents and visitors can enjoy them," he said.

On the other hand, the city official said that they have a sweeper, two tractors, five container gondolas, and a "roll-off" that are all set up to collect and move the sargassum to the collection area.

In the same way, the phenomenon is always being watched to make sure that the decomposition of the marine plant doesn't hurt the sandy beaches of Puerto Morelos or pollute the ecosystems.

Mexican Navy (SEMAR) provides machinery to fight sargassum

Recently, the Puerto Morelos City Hall received a tow tractor and a sweeper from the Secretary of the Navy to form a cleaning and maintenance program at different points of the beaches to face the enormous sargassum influx in the Mexican Caribbean.

Leonel Salazar Trejo, general director of Public Services, said that about 50 people who make up the operational staff begin at 6 am cleaning almost 2 kilometers of sandy beaches from the seaweed that started to land in the town a month ago.

They are working in the area of the old town, on Rojo Gómez Avenue, but above all in the central part of our most recognized tourist and symbolic image, which is "The Window to the Sea," he explained.

"The Ventana al Mar pier is the area that we take care of every day from 6 in the morning; our colleagues are giving it maintenance and working to reduce the amount of sargassum," he concluded.

The navy currently has 11 sargassum collection boats operating. But the marina's figures show that the portion they have been able to collect before it hits the beach has been decreasing.

Not all beaches

The problem comes just as resorts like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum are recovering from the brutal two-year drop in tourism caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and preparing for summer.

Not all beaches have been affected equally; many in Cancun and Isla Mujeres are usually free of significant amounts of sargassum, but much of the Riviera Maya has been badly affected.

Carlos Joaquín, governor of the coastal state of Quintana Roo, said the number of tourists arriving by air this year (some 3.54 million) is 1.27% above 2019 levels before the pandemic.

Sergio León, the former head of the state's business federation, said the algae invasion "has affected us, it has affected our image nationally and internationally. Obviously, not only visually, but in terms of environmental damage."

"The Mexican navy is making an effort, but it needs more; it's not enough," said León. "The ideal would be to collect the algae before they reach our beaches."

Floating barriers offshore

But he points to another problem: what to do with the thousands of tons of stinking seaweed collected each year, mainly by private hotel owners. Some dump the piles collected on the beach into disused limestone quarries, where salt and minerals contained in the ocean can leach into the groundwater.

Others merely leave them in forests or mangroves, which is equally damaging. Although some have attempted to use the sargassum to create bricks or fertilizer, the lack of official policies and long-term plans makes it difficult to obtain significant investments for such schemes.