Cancun, Quintana Roo — More than six tons of sea kelp, known as sargazo (Sargasso grass), has accumulated along beaches of the Riviera Maya.
Beaches in the resort town of Tulum are darkened by the vast amounts of the grass, while other beach areas covered in the natural grass are found unappealing by both locals and tourists.
Ephraim Alavez Huerta, Director of Ecology, explains that although it may be unappealing to tourists, the kelp has many benefits. One of the key benefits of the sea grass is that it helps lessen the effects of sand erosion along hotel and other beach-front properties.
Alavez Huerta points out that on the other hand, the grass can harm nesting turtles. It is for this reason he says that hotel owners not bury the kelp in the sand in an attempt to raise the beaches because it affects turtle nests.
The decomposition of the grass alters the conditions for the emergence of the young turtles. Once hatched, the young turtles can be crushed or suffocated by the large amounts of grass. Instead, he says, it is recommended that hotels place the unwanted sea grass in dunes.
The phenomenon of the Sargasso making landfall stems from the intensified weather conditions that have occurred during the past few months, particularly strong north winds that cause the grass to break free and become a free-floating seaweed that eventually washes up on coastlines.
Texas A&M researcher and sargassum expert Robert Webster explains, “When it lands on the beach it immediately dies and the marine species that use it as protection and a food source expire also,” he said.
“Then the birds come in and feed on the species. And it goes through these phases — first you smell the dead marine species and then you start smelling the decomposition of the sargassum itself.”
No one is sure what’s causing the huge increase.
To help with the problem, which is effecting beach destinations along the Riviera Maya, the president of Kanak Tulum says they have managed to gain the support of several businessmen with machinery to help clean the beach and remove the grass. This will be happening in coming days.
The vast accumulation of Sargrassum seaweed is also effecting much of the Gulf of Mexico, washing up on Texas and Florida beaches day after day from the Florida Keys to Galveston, Texas, since early May.