Quintana Roo tourism threatened by sargassum

The Mexican Caribbean Sea will have an increase in sargassum this May and June without the region being prepared to face the massive arrival that is expected to be similar in magnitude to that of 2019, the year it caused economic and ecological havoc in Quintana Roo.


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Esteban Amaro, in charge of the Cancun Sargasso Monitoring Network that monitors the behavior of macroalgae on the coasts of Quintana Roo, explains that this April they reported that in 26 of almost 80 points studied there is an “abundant” presence of sargassum.

Their investigations coincide with a recent report from the University of South Florida that identifies that the surface of the sargassum patch that remains afloat in the Atlantic Ocean, near the Caribbean, reached 1,036 square kilometers in April.

This means an increase of 333% compared to the previous month, according to the latest report from University, carried out with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, for its acronym in English).

The upward trend will continue in the coming months and will particularly affect the Mexican Caribbean, they warn in the most recent report.

Although the figure is high, it is still far from the record figure recorded in 2018, when it reached 2,800 square kilometers, an amount of sargassum never seen before in Mexico.

Every year since 2015, the surface begins to grow rapidly in April and reaches its maximum extent between May and August, and then almost disappears in winter.

2021 began with a record of 44 square kilometers, which increased to 239 kilometers in March and then climbed to the numbers for this April, according to the University of South Florida.

The University has warned that more sargassum will probably be generated in the coming months, both in the east and west of the Caribbean Sea, including in the Gulf of Mexico.

The causes of its behavior and its recent irruption in the region are not known and it is only known that it originates in the seas of Africa, from where currents transport it to the coasts of Brazil and, finally, to the Caribbean, and it grows in areas that are rich in nutrients, like the Caribbean.

Fight against sargassum in Cancun

In Cancun, 2,392 tons of sargassum have been collected so far this year, and only in the 12 existing public beaches, according to Francisco Díaz Lara, dispatch manager of the local Federal Maritime Terrestrial Zone (Zofemat).

In the last meeting of the Technical Advisory Council of Sargasso of Quintana Roo, in mid-March, the pending issues appeared to be able to face the problem at the state level: a local monitoring system, guidelines for the collection, and the of Official Mexican Norm (NOM) for its sustainable use.

All of them, says Rosa Rodríguez, a researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and who left the advisory group a few months ago, have been requested for years.

The specialist warned of the presence of heavy metals in the macroalgae, the nutrients that it contributes to the marine ecosystem and how lethal it was for some species of fish.

Commercialization of sargassum

There are at least three companies that have expressed interest in taking advantage of sargassum on an industrial scale. However, they have run into red tape.

Rodríguez explains that the problem lies in the fact that sargassum still does not appear in the National Fisheries Charter, in charge of the National Fisheries Institute (Inapesca).

This document contains information that allows knowing the most appropriate way to extract marine species susceptible to exploitation without harming the ecological balance.

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