The typical idyllic white sand beaches and aquamarine waters of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico are plagued by an unwanted and unattractive invasion of rotting seaweed, called sargassum.
For a number of years, the stinking algae have increasingly been flushing on the banks of Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, turning the water brown and covering the beaches with brown mud.
The thick macroalgae also bring a sharp & # 39; rotten egg & # 39; odor to the tank while it decays in the hot summer sun.
But this year is one of the worst for the region with officials warning that a floating seaweed island as large as Jamaica is floating a short distance from the coast.
"I have never seen such large sargassums coming," Susana Enríquez told the WSJ, a reef system expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Puerto Morelos.
The typically idyllic white sand beaches and aquamarine waters of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico are plagued by an unwanted and unattractive invasion of rotting seaweed, called sargassum
About 600 miles from the Caribbean coast of Mexico, its beaches have been hit by an invasion of seaweed
The thick macroalgae also bring a sharp & # 39; rotten egg & # 39; stench while it decays in the hot summer sun
However, the algae threaten to cause more damage than just penetrating the air with a bad odor. Officials also fear that it can have a huge impact on the vital tourism industry in the region, which employs four million people and is worth $ 100 billion a year.
"Recent experiences have shown that negative images can quickly discourage travelers in an industry that is highly dependent on user-generated content and online reservations," said an analyst from Moody & # 39; s Investors Service.
Already this year, bookings in hotels in Cancun and Puerto Morelos saw a sharp decline of 3.5%, despite the fact that room prices fell between 15% and 25% last year.
Officials believe that an increase in violent crimes and the rhetoric of immigration regularly voiced by President Trump would also have had a knock-on effect.
The Mexican government has spent more than $ 17 million this year to remove more than half a million tons of sargassum seaweed from the Caribbean beaches, but the problem doesn't seem to end soon.
"Fighting Sargassum is a big job every day," said Mayor Mara Lezama of Cancun last month. & # 39; You make the beaches & # 39; clean in the morning, and sometimes you clean them & # 39; noon or & # 39; Clean again at night, and then you have to go back and clean it again. & # 39;
However, the algae threaten to do more damage than just pervading the air with a bad smell – officials also fear it can have a huge impact on the vital tourism industry in the region, which employs four million people and $ 100 billion a year is worth it
This year is one of the worst for the region, with officials warning that a floating island of seaweed the size of Jamaica floats a short distance from the coast
Ricardo del Valle, a business owner in the resort of Playa del Carmen, said: "We offer sun and sand, nothing else. That's what we sell. And now we are fooling our tourists. & # 39;
Their anger increased last month when President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador visited the coast and played down the seriousness of the problem.
He recently said that he would not outsource the work of cleaning up sargassum – or gather it before it reaches the coast – but the Mexican Navy charged with building collector boats and cleaning the sea.
"I haven't talked much about this because I don't see it as a very serious problem, as some claim," said Lopez Obrador. "No, no, we're going to solve it."
Initial reports suggested that the seaweed came from part of the Atlantic Ocean off the north coast of Brazil, near the mouth of the Amazon. Increased nutrient flows due to deforestation or fertilizer removal can feed the algal blooms.
But experts like oceanographer Donald R. Johnson said, "Don't blame the Brazilians." Johnson said other causes seem to be contributing, such as nutrient flows from the Congo River.
The Mexican government has spent more than $ 17 million this year to remove more than half a million tons of sargassum seaweed from the Caribbean beaches, but the problem doesn't seem to end soon
Already this year bookings in hotels in Cancun and Puerto Morelos saw a sharp decrease of 3.5%, despite the fact that the room prices fell between 15% -25% last year
Increased upwelling of nutrient-laden deeper ocean water in the tropical Atlantic and dust blowing up from Africa can also play a role, according to Johnson, a senior researcher at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.
Although sargass mats sometimes seem to float to the west in the Caribbean, experts say the seaweed seems to be splashing back and forth between the Caribbean and Africa.
"The ability to destroy already fragile ecosystems is huge," said. Enríquez. "It is more than just a beach problem," she said, adding that sargassum can damage ecosystems such as coral reefs by blocking, decomposing, and digesting oxygen oxygenated water.
Although sargass mats sometimes appear to float westward in the Caribbean, experts say the seaweed seems to be splashing back and forth between the Caribbean and Africa
In an attempt to stop the attack, local officials have placed floating barriers in the ocean.
López Obrador has since pledged $ 2.5 million in federal money to help with the efforts.
The Navy of Mexico said it has collected 218 tonnes of sargassum since it began work to scoop up the seaweed in May.
However, their extensive efforts have had a limited effect.
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