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Sargasso affecting beaches from Florida to Cancun, Riviera Maya

Cancun, Riviera Maya — While the sargasso continues to arrive along Mexican beaches, authorities say the seaweed is a problem from South Africa to Brazil to the Caribbean.

At the beginning of June, the Barbados government declared a national emergency due to the masses of sargasso on its beaches. Puerto Rico is also facing a build up of seaweed along the coast. Even Brazil is dealing with the arrival of the unwanted grass, scenarios that are not much different than Mexico’s.

According to University of Miami News, South Florida beaches have seen the seaweed piling up on shores by the truckload noting, “In some spots, the Sargassum can reach as high as 2 feet, attracting insects, crabs and sea lice, trapping sea turtles, and forcing bathers to take a circuitous route around it to get to the water.”

South Beach on Miami Beach June 21. Photo: Michael Montero/UM News

The unwanted seaweed is not only a Cancun, Riviera Maya problem, but an issue that has continued to affect beaches in the Atlantic region for the past several summers.

The mass of floating sargasso, scientists say, is encircled by currents running clockwise from South America to Africa and back again.

James Franks, a marine biologist at The University of Southern Mississippi in Ocean Springs explained that from January to May, that loop breaks down and westward flows sweep Sargassum up the Brazilian coast toward the Caribbean.

“All along the way, the Sargassum is blooming and growing,” he says.

Although the Cancun, Riviera Maya region has been hit like other areas, the state government has allocated millions of peso for its continual removal. In Playa del Carmen, for example, most of the public beach areas have been cleared of the grass.

Playa del Carmen central beach June 29. Photo:

Yet, the arrival is keeping environmental authorities busy as they work at finding a way to stop the grass from reaching shores in the first place.

Miguel Ángel Ramírez Lara, president of the nautical sector in Riviera Maya, says that the losses in tourism are in the millions due to the decrease in demand for aquatic activities. He added that working on waters that contain that much seaweed is hard on the motors and can cause damage.

Over the next week, thousands of summer vacation tourists are expected to arrive in Cancun and Riviera Maya, something that has encouraged accelerated removal of the seaweed, however, local environmental specialists say they expect the grass to continue arriving until August.