If you had the opportunity to spend time in the Riviera Maya, you must have noticed the amount of seaweed that covers the beaches such as Playa Del Carmen, Tulum and Cancun every day. Tourists, as well as locals, will tell you that it is a real plague, not only the sight and smell but mostly for the damages it causes to several living beings.
Mostly brown or dark green I color, there are about 350 speeches of Sargassum, which can be up to a dozen meters long. Some of them are provided with gas-filled areas that allow them to float and so strengthen their photosynthesis abilities and bio-productivity. Often rugged with sticky mucus that protects them from ultraviolet, they sometimes form some kinds of flexible and robust vegetal “curtains” suitable for sea movements where lots of vertebrates and invertebrates can find a home.
Each year since 2011, the Caribbean costs are dealing with huge amounts of washed up Sargassum. Many theories try to explain this phenomenon, and they are all human activity related.
The intensive agriculture generates nutrients such as phosphate and nitrate, the mangrove destruction allows a direct flow to the ocean, global warming increases the water’s temperature, the Amazonian river pollution with the dumping of wastewater and metallic elements, all of this offers a favorable environment to faster the reproduction of this seaweed.
Therefore, the impact on tourism, in which the Caribbean territories get most of their income, can be significant. In the Riviera Maya as an example, hundreds of Mexican workers work hard every day, with shovels and wheelbarrows, in order to maintain the little paradise that is the Mexican beaches. Furthermore, the constant exposition to decomposing Sargassum could be toxic due to its concentrated sulfurized hydrogen.
Besides this, a great ecological impact has been noticed. On one side, Sargassum creates areas with few oxygens (anoxia) and on the other side, its large size does not allow to let the sun goes through therefore it is difficult for lots of different fish speeches and ecosystems to stay alive. The turtles also find challenging to reproduce, the access to the beaches being hardly walkable back and forth to them and their babies.
The best solution would be indeed taking the problem for its roots but as mentioned, they are possibly many factors that cause this situation and all of them are environment care related. With this issue growing and reaching more than one country, an initiative called the SEAS program, in partnership with several governments’ entities such as Mexico, was born in 2013 in order to study the Sargassum its nature and cycle. (link http://seas-forecast.com)
Some people and organizations are trying, however, to turn this seaweed into vegetal coal (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6QiSWBH6xY), fertilizer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gFUQ2w7lnI), flour, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9fhGMYrZ3M) and even plastic (http://www.algopack.com/indexgb.php)! As of today, Sargassum is mostly being picked up from the beach or the sea and then buried, the best way to re-use it seems not to be found or invested in yet and therefore remains not only as a direct consequence of non-environment caring but also as an ecological and economic problem.