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El Niño may prolong sargasso tides into next year

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An environmental group predicts a prolonged sargassum season in the Caribbean. Photo: La Jornada Maya

Contradicting predictions that sargassum will abate by December, the president of the Ocean Network in Mexico warned that the crisis will last into the beginning of 2019.

Norma Patricia Muñoz Sevilla blamed the El Niño phenomenon for warming the sea up to 3 degrees centigrade, triggering the proliferation of the macroalgae on Caribbean beaches, including Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

Both the space and weather agencies in United States have predicted the climatic abnormality, noted Muñoz Sevilla.

“The forecasts of NASA and NOAA are that by the end of the year, given the situation of warming and the temperature in the sea, we will have more heat on the ocean surface and that is one of the factors for the sea of Sargasso is more algae,” explained the scientist.

Monitoring systems show sargassum “islands,” several kilometers wide, headed to Cancun and Playa del Carmen, in Mexico, as well as the Bonaire Islands, Antigua, Barbados and Guadeloupe.

Aside from destroying beaches’ beauty, experts have warned that the atypical arrival of sargasso can be a true “environmental catastrophe.”

“Surely by the end of the year the sargasso will be more intense,” said Muñoz Sevilla.

Alfredo Arellano Guillermo, head of the Secretariat of Ecology and Environment (SEMA), previously said that sargassum tides are expected to decrease considerably in October and November, due to seasonal changes of currents.

Muñoz Sevilla, who holds a PhD in Biological Oceanography from the University of Marseille, France, disagreed.

The Marine Botany Laboratory of the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), where Muñoz Sevilla is also a professor, calculates that this year has already doubled the amount of sargassum compared with 2015, and the forecasts show that its arrival could be extended into January.

The experts are not clear about the reason for the increase in sargassum, but they have several hypotheses: one has to do with the increase in water temperature, caused by climate change. Another possibility is the increase of nutrients in the water, which favors the growth of the algae.

The Caribbean has crystalline water because it has few nutrients, but pollution such as nutrient-rich fertilizer runoff puts the ecosystem off balance.

Since 2011 scientists have detected sargassum drifting north in the Atlantic, between Africa and Brazil. Sargassum islands have been recorded for centuries, but in 2015, abnormally large tides began hitting Caribbean shore.

Guillermo said that removal crews are prepared for the possibility of a longer-than-expected sargassum season.

Source: La Jornada Maya

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