Seaweed on a beach on Isla Holbox. Seaweed on a beach on Isla Holbox.

Cold front blamed for seaweed on beaches

White sand on Isla Holbox turns reddish-brown under weed believed to be sargassum

White sand beaches on Isla Holbox in Quintana Roo turned to a much less appealing shade of reddish-brown late last week after large quantities of seaweed washed up on the shore.

Residents of the island, located just off the state’s northern coast, attributed the arrival of the seaweed, believed to be sargassum, to a cold front that also brought unusually low temperatures to the tourism hotspot.

According to a report by a correspondent from the newspaper El Universal who visited the island, large amounts of sargassum ran along at least 2.5 kilometers of the shoreline. The width of the coast it covered ranged between five and 30 meters.

Because of its pinkish tone, the sargassum is believed to be a less common variety of the genus. Tourism activity on the island last weekend declined as a result of its presence.

The volume of sargassum washing up on the shores of beaches in the Caribbean coast state has increased in recent years.

Reports by Mexico News Daily in 2015 detailed the extent of the problem for destinations like Cancún and Puerto Morelos as well as the dilemma authorities face when considering their clean-up efforts.

In July 2015, authorities expressed concern that efforts to remove the unsightly and smelly seaweed could disturb both sea turtles returning to the beach to lay eggs as well as tourists for whom the state’s world-renowned beaches are the primary drawing card.

On Isla Holbox, residents are facing different problems to clear the unwanted weed.

“We’re piling it up because there’s nowhere to take it,” said Paul González, a local hotel receptionist.

“For example, those people over here are piling it up and throwing sand on it so that it doesn’t look so ugly, or smell,” he told El Universal.

A local government official explained that 500 to 800 kilograms of sargassum had been washing up on the beaches on a daily basis and that there weren’t enough people to get rid of it all.

“We only have nine people to clean the whole beach,” Filemón Ancona said.

However, Ancona added that he wasn’t convinced that the organic matter they are dealing with is actually sargassum.

“. . . the sargassum that arrives in Holbox isn’t like the sargassum in Puerto Morelos [or] Playa de Carmen . . . sargassum is an herb but this sargassum isn’t an herb,” he said.

Academics have suggested that the weed may in fact be Amphiroa, a type of red algae, or Jania, a species of red seaweed. Testing will be needed to confirm its exact genus.

Whatever it is, both locals and tourists will be happy to see the end of it, which may not take long. The seaweed has already begun to recede.

After reaching a peak on Friday that lasted through the weekend, the phenomenon began diminishing earlier this week when higher tides returned a lot of the undesirable weed to the sea.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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