Tons of rotting seaweed on beaches is hurting Mexican tourism

Latin America

Across the Caribbean, tons of a brown seaweed called Sargassum are washing up on shore. It’s causing problems at some world-renown resorts, and Mexico’s tourism industry has been hit especially hard.

CGTN’s Franc Contreras reports from the coastal state of Quintana Roo.

State environmental officials said this summer more than 3,000 truckloads of seaweed called Sargassum have been removed from beaches in Quintana Roo.

Tons of this brown algae wash ashore daily. In the tropical heat, it quickly rots and produces a pungent, rotten-egg smell. Local fisherman are helping with the clean-up. One said hotels in the town of Mahahual are losing tourists.

“There have been hotel cancellations. The smelly Sargassum frightens off some people. But this is part of nature. We are trying to make the beach look and smell as good as possible so that we can continue to capture tourism,” Local Fisherman Angel Hernandez said.

Marine biologists said we are witnessing the moment when global warming is transforming part of the Caribbean Sea, which is usually known for its turquoise blue color water. Marine biologistBrigita van Tussenbroek said global warming is changing oceans currents. It’s also pushing the seaweed onto beaches all across the Caribbean.

“These conditions are ideal to form these huge masses of Sargassum, and most likely some changes in currents also helped that this mass now comes massively into the Caribbean and now is in the system,” Van Tussenbroek said.

The state spent more than $17 million to contain the problem from June through August of 2018. Officials still have no numbers to show the full impact of the seaweed inundation.

Quintana Roo State Secretary of Ecology and Environment Alfredo Arellano said because of global warming, the problem is here to stay.

“It’s not just a problem for Mexico, but for the entire Caribbean region. It’s important to mention we have never seen this magnitude of the problem and so we are experimenting with remedies,” Arellano said.

Scientists are testing to see if the seaweed can be used as a biofuel. In China, natural medicine specialists use Sargassum in a tea they said cures lung ailments.

Stakeholders interviewed in Mexico believe that irreversible changes are happening in the environment. However, they will require new approaches for those who make a living from the lucrative tourism economy.