President López Obrador today downplayed the gravity of sargassum landing on beaches in the Mexican Caribbean during a visit to Quintana Roo, emphasizing the actions his government is taking to address the problem.
“It’s not a delicate issue, and much less a serious issue,” he said at his daily press conference. “It has a solution, and we’re working on it.”
The president said that emergency declarations by the government of Quintana Roo were irresponsible attempts to make contracts with sargassum-collecting companies and discredit the federal government.
He also pointed out that the amount of sargassum collected on Quintana Roo beaches every day is less than 3% of the 13,000 tonnes of trash collected daily in Mexico City.
The figure, however, proved incorrect. After reporters called for clarification of the numbers, an aide approached the president with a note: the correct figure was given as 341 kilograms.
But Quintana Roo Governor Carlos Joaquín González said on Sunday that a tonne of sargassum is being collected daily.
Navy Secretary Rafael Ojeda also spoke this morning, observing that the sargassum issue is being treated as a “state problem” for the first time, with a coordinated response from the three levels of government.
“They used to invest a lot of money, but just in contracts and half-measures,” he said.
López Obrador last month put the navy in charge of combating the sargassum problem.
Ojeda announced an investment of 52 million pesos (US $2.7 million) of federal money to install barriers to keep sargassum from reaching beaches and build a fleet of 10 to 12 sargassum-collecting vessels in navy shipyards. Each will take between one and two months to build.
The principal problem with sargassum, according to Ojeda, is not how to collect the macroalgae, but what to do with it once it has been collected.
In May, the federal government predicted a 30% drop in tourism in Quintana Roo because of sargassum washing up on 200 kilometers of the state’s beaches. According to the governor, who appeared with the president at Sunday’s press conference, sargassum has not seriously affected hotel occupancy, although it has had an impact on providers of beach activities, sports and restaurants.
“We need to prevent problems for the next vacation period with more efficient direct actions for collection and removal,” he said.
A Cancún hotel association has predicted the weed would cost the industry millions of dollars.