Mexico fears impact of seaweed on tourism

By Lourdes Cruz

Cancun, Mexico, Feb 14 (EFE).- Scientists warned Tuesday that this year may see a record accumulation of sargassum on Mexico’s Caribbean beaches.

The problem, which has been growing since 2013, is of particular concern in Cancun and the surrounding state of Quintana Roo, where the brown seaweed is already beginning to appear, months earlier than usual.

Hydro-biologist Esteban Amaro, director of the Sargassum Monitoring Network, pointed to alarming studies by researchers at the University of South Florida.

“Last year 54,000 tons of sargassum were picked up (on Mexican beaches), this year is expected to surpass that by a lot and some sources say we will have more than 90,000 tons,” he told EFE.

During a recent clean-up effort, Quintana Roo authorities announced that an anti-seaweed barrier will be placed off the coast of Mahahual this week.

“There are 1,400 meters (4,590 ft) of barrier to help keep the sargassum from reaching the beach,” state Gov. Mara Lezama said.

Originating in the Sargasso Sea, a patch of the Atlantic Ocean off the southeastern coast of the United States, sargassum was rare in the Caribbean as recently as a decade ago.

Changes in temperature, ocean currents and prevailing winds have made sargassum a threat to the tourism industry across the region.

In Quintana Roo, Amaro said, “the sargassum working group is made up of academics as part of civil society, the hoteliers and the three levels of government and it has advanced toward a general strategy.”

Many beaches in the state remain free of seaweed, according to the map produced by the Sargassum Monitoring Network, in locations including Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, Holbox and even Cancun.

Tourists are invited to “consult this map” to plan their vacations, Amaro said.

Over just three days last week, 190 tons of sargassum was picked up in the area bounded by Xcalak, Mahahual and the southern part of Punta Herrero.

Authorities have set up four seaweed collection points on the beaches of Cancun, all of them at spots that can accommodate heavy vehicles and specialized equipment.

The seaweed collection on the beaches is transported to a vast processing facility of 5,000 sq m (53,748 sq ft), where it is transformed into various useful products. EFE lc/dr

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