April 6, 2024
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Sargassum Season 2023: Experts Warn of Record-Breaking Bloom

The arrival of seaweed on Caribbean beaches has come earlier than expected and with greater volume, catching the region’s tourism sector by surprise. This year, the algae appeared three months ahead of its usual season, prompting authorities to redouble efforts to deal with the natural phenomenon and not ruin the Caribbean summer, the country’s most important tourist destination.

According to a study by the University of South Florida, which monitors the movement of seaweed, more than 20 million tons of seaweed could accumulate during peak month, of which 5 percent will end up on the beaches of the country’s Caribbean coast.

Seaweed mass arrivals

Sargassum Season 2023: Experts Warn of Record-Breaking Bloom

Specialists from the Academic Unit of Reef Systems at the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology (ICML) of UNAM, in a study, discovered that since 2011 the first massive seaweed arrivals were reported in countries of the eastern Caribbean and the west coast of Africa. Since then, frequent and varied strandings have been monitored, which have caused ecological, economic, and health problems in more than 30 countries, as reported by Rosa Elisa Rodríguez, a researcher at the ICML-UNAM.

One of the highlights is that a new seaweed accumulation zone was formed at the beginning of 2011, which runs from Africa to the Gulf, known by the scientific community as the Atlantic Seaweed Belt.

Factors that contribute to the seaweed increase

Sargassum Season 2023: Experts Warn of Record-Breaking Bloom

One of the responsible factors for the increase in seaweed is pollution in the oceans, as well as climate change that causes changes in ocean currents.

The economic impact of mitigating seaweed is the cost of maintaining and cleaning the coastal area. According to a study analyzing the expenses of three municipalities in Quintana Roo (Puerto Morelos, Solidaridad, and Tulum) and five hotels, the approximate cost per kilometer of coastline amounts to one and a half million dollars per year.

Efforts to tackle seaweed influx

Sargassum Season 2023: Experts Warn of Record-Breaking Bloom

To address the seaweed influx, authorities are deploying different measures. Among these, the use of barriers to contain the seaweed and boats to collect it, as well as the establishment of public-private partnerships to finance cleanup efforts.

In addition, research efforts are being conducted to identify new uses for seaweed. For example, a group of Mexican scientists is studying the possibility of using it as an alternative to plastic, as it is biodegradable and has a similar composition.

Impact on tourism and local communities

Sargassum Season 2023: Experts Warn of Record-Breaking Bloom

The seaweed influx has had a significant impact on the tourism sector and local communities. In addition to the cost of cleanup efforts, the seaweed can affect the quality of the water and sand, making them less attractive to tourists.

This, in turn, can lead to reduced tourism revenues, job losses, and economic hardship for communities that rely on tourism.

Government and industry stakeholders are working together to develop strategies to mitigate the impact of seaweed on tourism and local communities. These include the promotion of alternative tourist activities, such as cultural and eco-tourism, and the diversification of the local economy to reduce dependence on tourism.

In summary, the early and massive arrival of seaweed on Caribbean beaches has become a major challenge for the tourism industry and local communities. The problem is caused by pollution and climate change, and it requires a multi-faceted approach to mitigate its impact. This includes efforts to contain and collect seaweed, research into new uses for seaweed, and strategies to diversify the local economy. Through these efforts, it is possible to protect the natural beauty of Caribbean beaches and support the communities that depend on them.


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