This week, 600 meters of sargassum barriers were installed along the coast of Tulum, in an effort to prevent the foul-smelling seaweed from washing ashore. Around 25% of the barrier has now been constructed, with the total coverage projected to be 2,350 meters. Quintana Roo authorities have stated that the sargassum barrier will be completed in the next 8 to 10 days, weather permitting.
Sargassum is known as a leafy-brown seaweed that floats on the surface of the ocean, frequently found in the Mexican-Caribbean. When it washes ashore, it decomposes and releases a foul smell as well as being an unsightly mess on the otherwise-pristine beaches of Quintana Roo. Mexican authorities have therefore made it a priority to prevent the arrival of sargassum on the shores of popular tourist beaches, including those in Tulum.
Tulum was initially due to receive sargassum barriers in early May, to prepare for the vast amount of tourists arriving for their summer vacations. However, the construction was met with pushbacks due to poor weather conditions. This unfortunately affected tourists finishing their easter vacation in the region, as some of the most popular beaches were completely covered by the pungent brown seaweed.
The failure of local authorities to construct sargassum barriers in Tulum led to local hoteliers and restaurant owners taking matters into their own hands, with volunteers gathering across the most popular beaches to remove sargassum in droves.
Without removing the seaweed, hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions near affected beaches experienced a severe decline in the number of tourists who chose to visit, making the arrival of sargassum on Mexican-Caribbean shores an overtly economic issue.
The newly-built sargassum barrier is proposed to direct the flow of foul-smelling seaweed away from the tourist hotspot of Tulum, towards lesser-known areas on the Mexican-Caribbean coastline, such as Boca Paila. To aid the collection of sargassum, naval ships will also patrol the area and notify authorities of the amount of sargassum at peak times for tourism. All collected sargassum will also be composted away from tourist-heavy areas.
2 weeks ago, the local Sargassum Monitoring Network issued a notice stating that peak sargassum levels would occur between late July to late August, coinciding with tourists’ plans for summer vacation. The hardest hit areas were reported to be Tulum, Puerto Morelos and Playa del Carmen. This has encouraged tourism officials to ramp up efforts to clean tourist-frequented beaches and put in more preventative measures for sargassum.
In spite of this announcement, Admiral Alejandro Lopez Zenteno (one of the strategy leaders for the Secretary of the Navy) found that the current climate in Quintana Roo had allowed for a slight decrease of sargassum present on beaches in Tulum. However, this slight decrease was not significant enough to remove sargassum from the beaches altogether, hence the importance of the new barriers.
To prevent sargassum along other tourist areas of Quintana Roo, the Secretary of the Navy ordered the placement of amphibious bands along shorelines, which allow volunteers to immediately collect sargassum before it collects and decomposes on the shore. Two bands each have been assigned to Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, with one band assigned to the up-and-coming tourist town of Mahahual.
The governor of Quintana Roo, Carlos Joaquin, stated that the weekly forecasts of sargassum were vital in planning the sargassum barrier and retrieval of the foul-smelling seaweed. With the barrier installed fully, and better surveillance of the invasive plant species, tourists and citizens of Quintana Roo alike will finally be able to enjoy the spectacular beaches of Tulum and beyond.
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