Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Good news for beach goers! Less sargassum reported on Riviera Maya beaches

In good news for spring break beach goers, the presence of sargassum has been minimal on Riviera Maya beaches so far in 2024. The yellow-brown seaweed has washed ashore in large quantities in previous years on the beaches of the Yucatán peninsula, causing difficulties for tourists and locals.

According to a report from the University of South Florida’s Optical Oceanography Lab, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea saw very little sargassum in the first two months of the year. However, researchers predict that this situation may change in the near future, as the sargassum bloom is expected to grow and move westward.

Playa del Carmen beach
The beaches of Quintana Roo, including Playa del Carmen seen here on March 12, have been mostly clear of sargassum so far this year. (Cuartoscuro)

Sargassum is an issue when it washes ashore and begins to rot, releasing hydrogen sulfide. This smells like rotten eggs and can cause breathing difficulties for some.

How have the first two months of 2024 compared to 2023?

In Solidaridad, as in the rest of the Yucatán Peninsula, the amount of sargassum that has washed ashore is considerably lower than last year. 

The Sustainable Environment and Climate Change Minister of Solidaridad, Lourdes Várguez Ocampo, reported that between December 2023 and February 2024, 1,000 tonnes of sargassum had been collected from the beaches of Solidaridad — that is, 800 tonnes less than that collected in the same period of 2022-2023.  

As for Tulum, Municipal Director of the Federal Maritime Land Zone (Zofemat) Melitón González Pérez, recalled that in 2023, an atypical event occurred that caused the sargassum to arrive in mid-January — earlier than it usually does. This year, however, González said the sargassum has been “manageable.”

A sargassum clean up crew in Quintana Roo
Local governments have hired crews to clean up sargassum when it washes ashore on Quintana Roo’s famed beaches. (Cuartoscuro)

When does sargassum season usually start? 

In the Mexican Caribbean, the sargassum season typically begins in late spring and concludes in early fall, peaking in the months of April and May. 

What’s the forecast for 2024?

According to González, authorities are aware that global warming will continue to generate large quantities of sargassum in the Mexican Caribbean. That is because higher ocean temperatures bring bigger sargassum blooms. 

By April, researchers at the University of South Florida have predicted that a mass of nearly five million tons of macroalgae will approach Mexico, and could pile up on the coastlines of Quintana Roo. 

How are local authorities approaching the sargassum issue?

Gonzáles said that Zofemat is proactively addressing the sargassum issue by conducting cleaning operations on public beaches. 

In Solidaridad, authorities have announced they have taken the necessary measures to fight the imminent arrival of sargassum season by assigning over 100 workers to clean the beaches. 

In October 2023, the local government of Quintana Roo presented the Comprehensive Strategy for the Management and Use of Sargassum (EIMAS), which defined responsibilities for managing the impact of this natural phenomenon across all government levels. 

Moreover, the Navy uses special ships and containment barriers to collect sargassum before it reaches the beaches of Quintana Roo. 

With reports from La Jornada Maya, The Hill, Sipse, Quadrantin and Traveling Lifestyle

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