Cancun and the Mexican Caribbean are known for their spectacular beaches, which are recognized as some of the best in the world.
This is why when an unwelcome visitor arrives en masse to its shores, namely, sargassum seaweed, local authorities and citizens go above and beyond to reduce its presence.
You’ll know exactly why if you’ve ever been near a pile of sargassum. It emanates an ungodly smell, it doesn’t look particularly nice, and swimming near it can result in skin rashes – not great.
The sargassum season in the Mexican Caribbean typically starts at the beginning of spring, as water temperatures begin to rise.
However, the sargassum season arrived earlier than expected in 2023, and, unfortunately, this might happen again in 2024.
@mtinatravels What is the seaweed and sargassum actually like in Cancun / Riviera Maya? Here is what its like right now. This can change daily or by the hour even! Don’t let it deter you from your trip- each resort has wonderful pools even if the beach has too much seaweed! #traveladvisor #cancun #secretsakumal ♬ original sound – Martina | Travel Advisor
A recent report by the University of South Florida revealed that there will be an increase in sargassum abundance and distribution in the early months of 2024 in Quintana Roo, but the long-term extent of the bloom is still uncertain.
Currently, monitoring by the Sargassum Citizen Observatory shows a low quantity of this pesky seaweed on most of Cancun’s beaches.
The monitoring efforts are also keeping a close eye on a sargassum patch located in the Caribbean Sea, which could reach the Quintana Roo coastline if its current trajectory, only held back by weather conditions, continues.
Why The Sargassum Season Is Arriving Early To The Mexican Caribbean
Before you raise your fist to the sky, yelling the seaweed’s name as you find out it might disrupt your long-awaited Cancun vacation; it’s worth noting that sargassum is actually a crucial part of the marine ecosystem.
Not only does sargassum provide shelter to a wide array of marine species, but it also strengthens sand dunes and protects coastlines from the forces of nature, such as hurricanes, storms, and high tides.
@sargassummonitoring Ene, 4 2024 #Mexico #Mexique #PlayadelCarmen Pronostico, Noticias & Mapa Oficial AQUÍ –> https://sargassummonitoring.com/ #sargassum #sargasso #sargazo #sargasses #sargassummonitoring #SurveillancedesSargasses #MonitoreodeSargazo #CitizenScience ♬ original sound – Sargassum Monitoring
Scientists have also identified the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic as the spawning grounds of the migrating European eels, a mystery that had baffled them for ages and almost drove Sigmund Freud mad trying to crack the case.
And it’s not only eels, as this so-called ‘floating forest’ also serves as a breeding ground for sea turtles and fish like mahi mahi.
So, sargassum is a big deal. However, the problem arises when this macro algae grows in excessive numbers, a phenomenon that has been happening since 2011.
Given that sargassum seaweed thrives in warm waters, it’s easy to pinpoint one of the potential main culprits: climate change.
@ahoyvacations Cancun is a great place for a vacation but did you know some areas have a lot of sargassum over the summer? This year it started as early as April! #cancunvacation #allinclusiveresort #familyvacation #summervacation #travelwithkids #beachvacation @Bianca | Travel Agency Owner ♬ original sound – Bianca | Destination Weddings
However, pollution is also thought to be a major factor as well, as the nutrients from waste originating from cities, roadways, farms, and other sources accelerate sargassum growth.
The Battle Against Sargassum
In the Mexican Caribbean, this surge in sargassum (which doesn’t originate from the Sargasso Sea but the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt) has become a major issue.
Getting rid of literal tons of smelly seaweed is easier said than done, as it involves a complex choreography that entails extensive monitoring, cleaning, and processing efforts.
The Mexican Navy has also installed more than 9000 meters of anti-sargassum barriers in hotspots like Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Puerto Morelos to keep the algae at bay.
Furthermore, various companies are exploring creative approaches, repurposing sargassum as fertilizer, fuel, and more.
In an impressive and somewhat ironic feat, Playa del Carmen officials have even managed to restore the mostly eroded Playa Recodo using dried sargassum powder as a substitute for sand.
So, while sargassum levels are on the rise, so are the solutions, yet the definitive, future-proof outcomes remain a question mark.
Which Mexican Caribbean Beaches Are Sargassum-Free Right Now?
The Mexican Caribbean sargassum season usually spans from April to October, though, as you already know, it began early in 2023, and it might do the same this year.
However, the sargassum season also ended early in 2023, around the beginning of September.
But September 2024 is still a while away. Right now, conditions remain favorable: out of the 138 beaches monitored in Quintana Roo, 112 have low amounts, and nine have a moderate quantity.
Popular hotspots such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and the whole Riviera Maya report little presence of the algae, while Holbox, Isla Contoy, Isla Mujeres, Costa Mujeres, and Chetumal all boast sargassum-free beaches.
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