More sargassum seaweed arrives on Tulum's shores

Seaweed has been more abundant on Tulum's public beaches in the last few days, as well as on long stretches of beach concessions held by hoteliers in the National Park and Punta Piedra.

More sargassum seaweed arrives on Tulum's shores
Tulum in a situation of abundant seaweed.

In the last few days, there has been a greater abundance of seaweed on Tulum's public beaches, as well as on long stretches of beach concessions held by hoteliers in the National Park and Punta Piedra.

The sargassum arrivals in Tulum began in January, but since mid-March, there has been a notable increase in the amount of seaweed in Tulum. The large presence of sargassum on the coastal coasts caused the high season of Easter Week to be unproductive.

The Secretariat of the Navy has not officially informed the reason for the delay in the installation of this infrastructure, but according to the versions of workers in the tourism industry, personnel from the federal agency were seen this Monday locating the anchorages to carry out the work during this week.

The Mexican Caribbean Biosphere Reserve informed that bad weather conditions were delaying the installation of these anti-seaweed barriers in Tulum and other beaches of Quintana Roo.

More than 18 thousand tons of seaweed have been collected

The Secretary of Communication of the state of Quintana Roo informed that so far in 2022 more than 18 thousand tons of macroalgae have been collected, which form mounds of more than 90 centimeters high in less than 24 hours, making it almost impossible for people to walk on the seashore. However, the sargassum arrival season is just beginning; it is expected to increase even more in May, June, and July.

The latest Tulum seaweed conditions as of 18 June 2022. Sargassum semaphore
The latest Tulum seaweed conditions as of 18 June 2022. Sargassum semaphore: blue - no seaweed, green - very low, yellow - moderate, orange - abundant, and red - excessive amounts of seaweed on the certified beaches. Source data: Federal Maritime Terrestrial Zone Directorate

Among the most affected areas are Coral Beach, in Punta Nizuc; Riviera Cancun, the Moon Palace, Royalton Riviera, Bahia Petempich and downtown Puerto Morelos. In Playa del Carmen, they are Xcalacoco, Punta Esmeralda, Mamitas, Playa El Recodo, Fundadores, Playacar Ferry and Hotel Zone, as well as Puerto Aventuras, Barceló Maya and the coastal area of Xpu-Ha.

Another demarcation with an upturn was Tulum, where the coasts of Xcacel-Xcacelito, Bahía Soliman, Tankah, the ruins zone, the hotel zone, Punta Piedra and Arco Maya. Meanwhile, the best areas to visit this Saturday were Isla Mujeres and Cozumel on the west side, as well as Puerto Juarez, Las Perlas, Langosta and Tortugas, in Cancun.

When does the seaweed season start in Tulum?

Sargassum seaweed in Tulum usually starts to arrive towards the end of March or April, but hoteliers have already gotten used to it, as it is a recurrent and certainly seasonal phenomenon. In many cases, it is the individuals who collect a large part of the seaweed and invest unsustainable amounts, so they have to seek to make it more and more economically sustainable. The cost for cleaning sargassum has reached the cost that lodging centers spend to pay for the electric energy service in their businesses.

The seaweed, which can double in less than three weeks and which has particularly saturated the beaches of Tulum, and to a lesser extent those of Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico, became a problem for the tourism industry of unimaginable magnitude. Right now the predictions that are shown to us by the agreements that the Navy has with several satellite institutions that have tracking is that the sargassum landfall will be very similar or the same as that of 2020, which was the one with the least arrival towards the coasts. Therefore, this year will be a year of respite.

Industry against sargasso

The Ministry of the Navy held a meeting with representatives of the tourism industry of Quintana Roo, to foresee some actions, among them to define the final destination of the seaweed, which is still pending. Before the meeting, the use of at least one large vessel and six smaller vessels had been agreed upon to contain the arrival of the seaweed.

This year there are already great advances in terms of the number of vessels that will have some trawlers. In total there are going to be 6 where before there were 2 or 4. Likewise, a 2,500-meter net had already been installed to contain the arrival of sargassum. They were allowed to install bands to collect the seaweed and take it directly to the trucks for its transfer to land deposits or its industrial use.

The business community and the municipality have already taken over the offshore dock. The Navy can dock there and with some ramps, move from boats to dump trucks, and take the sargassum. Previously with the other option, it took about 8 hours between collection and transfer, and this will reduce the time by more than 50 percent.

The hotels make a double contribution to containing the problem. On the one hand, they have a trust fund for the environmental fee paid by each lodging facility, which is administered from a municipal account. The hotels install nets and have boats for the collection of the seaweed, which also implies the payment of transportation and final disposal, which can represent an investment of up to 1.5 million pesos per month, something like 20 million pesos per year.

What is sargassum?

It is a brown floating seaweed that reproduces rapidly and feeds on sunlight. Its origin is located in a space in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between the north of Africa and the north of South America, where the so-called "Sargasso Sea" is located.

The marine currents drag it from there towards the north of the planet in the direction of the Caribbean Sea. Its presence obstructs the passage of light to the sea, which affects marine life, mainly underwater grasses.

Being in a kind of islands, the lower parts of the sargassum islands that form in the sea die and generate acids and other compounds harmful to marine life and human activities on the beach. Therefore, it has to be removed immediately, which also causes beach erosion.