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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Less sargassum is forecast for Mexico’s beaches in 2020

After a record-high year, some relief is in sight

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Residents remove sargassum in Puerto Morelos in May 2019. Photo: Getty

The Yucatan Peninsula and other Caribbean coastal towns are bracing for what has become an annual crisis — sargassum tides consisting of a floating, brown macroalgae. This year, though, less of the stinky seaweed is expected.

That’s a relief, since 2019 was a record-high year for the stinky seaweed.

The University of South Florida Outlook of 2020 Sargassum, the sargassum amount in the Central West Atlantic – east of the Lesser Antilles – is still low compared to 2015, 2018 and 2019, when the problem peaked.

Sargassum monitoring forecasts for Cancun and Playa del Carmen show a significant decrease in yucky seaweed tides compared to the last two years. Sargassum is thought to also be minimal in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Straits and the Caribbean Sea. The report did not delve into theories to explain the reduced amounts of sargassum.

The report predicts the Caribbean Sea will likely experience moderate amounts of sargassum in February to March, while Barbados, Tobago and Guadeloupe may experience some small to moderate tides on their windward beaches. This situation may continue into spring.

Sargassum is expected to arrive in April, May or June before departing later in the summer.

Still, Mexico’s Caribbean coast will still employ boats and barriers to minimize sargassum tides. Additional boats will be directed to Xcalak, Mahahual, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Tulum and Benito Juárez in Cancun. More than 4,000 meters of containment barriers are to be placed in the most heavily affected regions, with the most extensive in Mahahual and Xcalak.

The influx of rotting seaweed threatens the economy of some of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations, from Tulum to Playa del Carmen to Cancun, where 8.7% of Mexico’s gross domestic product is derived.

Sargassum was spotted on beaches in 2011. In smaller quantities, 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 excessive sargassum blooms are believed fueled by rising ocean temperatures, agricultural fertilizers and untreated sewage flowing into the Caribbean and Atlantic.

The plant is also poisonous for coral reefs and fauna such as sea turtles and fish.

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