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Scientists warn some types of sargassum could impact on human health

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Large amounts of sargassum are now washing a shore in locations previously relatively untouched by the algae, such as the theme park Xcaret in the Riviera Maya. Photo: Dani López

Photos of Quintana Roo’s coastline covered in sargassum for weeks have been circulating heavily over news sites and social media. 

And scientists now warn that some types of sargassum could be detrimental to human health.

“We have detected four species of algae which could potentially be detrimental to human health. The main risk comes from consuming fish that has fed on said species,” said José Antolín Ake Castillo, co-author of a recent scientific report. 

This species of algae is reported to have the potential to cause food poisoning resulting in gastrointestinal, respiratory, and neurological symptoms. 

However, the report also points out that these species of algae have been detected in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico for over a decade. No illnesses have been directly linked to their indirect consumption. 

The impact of sargassum on the Peninsula is being felt the heaviest by resort communities in the Caribbean which rely on their usually pristine beaches to attract tourists from around the world. 

“We have tourists show up who have never heard about the problem, and they are turned off right away. Honestly, who could blame them?” said Manuel Chable, an employee at a major resort in Playa del Carmen. 

Earlier: Sargassum and the Sahara dust phenomenon — are they connected?

Aside from being unsightly and unpleasant to swim through, rotting mounds of sargassum also give off a particularly foul odder which is hard to ignore.

Local, state, and federal authorities have teamed with private enterprises to remove as much sargassum as possible. 

But as ocean temperatures continue to warm, there is a real fear that the arrival of large amounts of sargassum will continue to be a yearly occurrence. A worrisome explosion of the thick, brown seaweed first appeared in 2011. 

The area most affected by sargassum includes the mainland coast of Quintana Roo, though some beaches such as those in Isla Mujeres have not been impacted.

Aerial photo from Sisal on the norther coast of Yucatán, completely sargassum free. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Also, virtually sargassum free are most of the beaches on Yucatán’s northern coast, such as Sisal and Celestún.

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