Author: Kyle McCarthy
A recent trip to Riviera Maya on Mexico's east coast gave me a firsthand view of the onslaught of seaweed attacking Caribbean beaches. Said to have begun in January of this year, the unusual volume of sargassum, the brown strands of algae that originate in the Atlantic' s Sargasso Sea, has been an economic nightmare for some islands and a boon for others.
In Trinidad, for example, fishermen are unable to cast their nets or, on some days, even get their boats past the gooey morass and out to sea. From Cancun south to Tulum, on the other hand, hundreds have found work shoveling the seaweed away from the gold sand beaches so that resort guests can swim.
In early July, as the weather got warmer, the seaweed blossomed to such an extent that local efforts by hoteliers along Playa Petempich could only clear enough beachfront for the destination wedding parties who had paid a premium to be married on the sand.
Despite the eyesore and odor given off by the thousands of tiny plants and marinelife that travel with sargassum, it is not harmful in any way. Instead, scientists stress this eco-system's importance to healthy oceans. Some speculate that climate change causing shifting water currents and warmer seas is to be blamed for the abundance of sargassum, which otherwise occurs naturally.
Everyone concurs that it is very bad for tourism.
Here's a look at what is happening now and forecast to occur periodically, moving between regions of the Caribbean, through the end of the year.
Note that manual labor is used to remove the seaweed from beach areas where sea turtles may have made their nests.
Large scale efforts to bury the seaweed in trenches dug into the sand will pay off in the future, when the sargassum attracts more sand to replenish and widen the beachfront along the most heavily developed coastlines.
You can get off your beachchair and help shovel, as many guests have begun doing, or sit by the pool and ignore it.
But don't cancel your trip; instead use it as a learning opportunity for the whole family to understand firsthand why we must live in harmony with nature. The Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism's handbook "Sargassum, A Resource Guide for the Caribbean" will fascinate school-age kids and is good resource for crafts projects incorporating the dried seaweed.
All we know for sure is that trying it fight it on such a large scale is a losing proposition.