Cancun, Q.R. – Beach resorts in Mexico continue to deal with the intrusive Sargasso problem that has left nearly all of its pristine beaches under a thick layer of the brown seaweed.
There has been an estimated 90 tons of sargassum algae washed up on Cancun’s beaches causing some tourists to cancel their sunny beach vacations. Mexican authorities are doing their best to deal with the issue, having recruited hundreds of diggers and machinery to clear the beaches.
The problem is not only along the Mexican coast though.
Since May, the seaweed has hit nearly every part of the Caribbean, causing major headaches from Texas all the way to the island of Tobago in the south Caribbean.
Scientists say that the seaweed is an important part of the coastal eco-system and explain that it plays an important role in beach nourishment. They also say that they have associated the massive quantities of this year’s seaweed in the Caribbean region with higher than normal temperatures and low winds, two elements that influence ocean currents.
Sargassum is a floating algae that circulates through the Gulf of Mexico and North Atlantic where it forms the nearly 2 million-square-kilometer Sargasso Sea.
It is common for the seaweed to wash up on beaches in the Gulf, southern US Atlantic coast and northern Caribbean during the spring and summer months.
In 2011, however, the unwanted seaweed began showing up in unprecedented amounts, often in places it had never been seen before.
One example is a three-mile stretch of beach on Galveston Island, Texas where, over a 24-hour period, scientists recorded more than 8,400 tons of it. That occurred in a single day in May 2014.
Jim Franks, a senior research scientist at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, reports that the seaweed is showing up in areas where before, it had been seen only rarely or not all. He says that circulation patterns in the equatorial Atlantic even carried mats to Africa for the first time. Satellite data suggest the amount of sargassum in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and Atlantic may hit an all-time high in 2015.
Tobago’s Division of Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment began removing sargassum from 16 beaches in early May, but officials admit their efforts were futile as the seaweed simply continued to wash ashore.
There have been many dramatic changes to the environment in recent years. The results of this dramatic climate change appears to be a factor in the reason for the explosion in sargassum. This means the seaweed-covered beaches from Texas to Tobago could be the new norm, a major inconvenience for beachgoers and a potential economic disaster for tourism industries.