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12 Caribbean nations huddle in Mexico over sargassum woes

Tourism ministers agree to seek international support

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A worker cleans a beach in Tulum, Mexico, on June 15. Photo: Getty

Twelve Caribbean nations whose beaches have been invaded by tons of sargassum have agreed to seek international economic support to fight a problem affecting 19 nations.

The meeting, held in Quintana Roo, gathered ministers of environment and tourism of 12 countries. It was coordinated by the state’s governor, Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez.

One response is to request an amendment to the Cartagena Convention, allowing sargassum to be categorized as invasive.

The Cartagena de Indias Convention, signed in 1983, is aimed at the Caribbean nations achieving a balance between development and protection of the marine environment, in addition to focusing on recognizing its economic, social and cultural value.

The convention provides international economic support to fight problems, including the damage caused by oil spills, in the greater Caribbean region.

Caribbean governments are acknowledging that the seaweed, which impacts on tourism, fisheries and wildlife, could pose a long-term threat. It began washing up on beaches from Mexico to the United States in 2011.

Mexico has spent the equivalent of US$17 million in an attempt to clear 500,000 tons of sargassum seaweed from its Caribbean beaches.

Scientists say the seaweed normally plays an important role in the regional ecosystem: rafts of floating sargassum provide important habitat for birds and marine species in the Atlantic, while smaller amounts of sargassum are normal on beaches and considered beneficial.

But for the past decade, sargassum has been blooming excessively across the Caribbean, fueled by rising ocean temperatures, agricultural fertilizers and untreated sewage flowing into the Caribbean and Atlantic.

Barely 30 percent of wastewater in the Mayan Riviera is treated. In turn, rotting sargassum increases the sea’s acidity and temperature and reduces oxygen, said García. The plant is also poisonous for coral reefs, fauna such as sea turtles and fish.

Source: Prensa Latina, Guardian

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