A backhoe removes sargassun from a Quintana Roo beach. A backhoe removes sargassum from a Quintana Roo beach.

Environmental group criticizes use of heavy machinery to remove sargassum

Authorities are using backhoes on Playa Cancún. The machines compact sand and can harm sea turtle nests

Efforts to clean up sargassum from beaches on the Caribbean coast are causing environmental damage, according to the Mayab Environmental Group (GEMA).

The organization has reported the use of heavy machinery to collect sargassum, which is prohibited under Mexican law, on Gaviota Azul beach in Playa Cancún.

GEMA President Aracely Domínguez told El Universal that the Benito Juárez municipality (which includes the city of Cancún) brought heavy machinery to the beach yesterday, which she says can damage beaches by compacting sand. The use of heavy machinery can also harm sea turtle nests.

“We demand the Benito Juárez municipality be fair to the environment and follow the regulations that govern the management of sargassum, especially with regard to protecting sea turtles,” she said.

Domínguez said that regulations allow light machinery to be used for collecting sargassum, but not heavy machinery like the backhoes that have been used on Cancún beaches.

Owners of small hotels in nearby Punta Maroma also reported seeing large hotels use heavy machinery to remove sargassum.

Domínguez added that the environmental protection agency Profepa has not fulfilled its obligation to monitor sargassum removal.

“Profepa should be making sure the navy collects sargassum and does it in a way that doesn’t hurt marine fauna, but they haven’t said anything about this,” she said.

As warming oceans promote the reproduction of sargassum, large quantities of the macroalgae have been washing up on beaches in the Mexican Caribbean since 2014. In addition to affecting the tourism industry, the weed is harmful to coastal ecosystems.

The wave of sargassum that has been hitting the Mexican Caribbean since last week is one of the largest in history. The total quantity is not known, but over the weekend the navy reported collecting 10 tonnes of sargassum from beaches between Cancún and Tulum.

Source: El Universal (sp), El País (sp), El Financiero

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