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Sargassum seaweed threatens beaches along the Caribbean Sea in Belize and Mexico

Posted: Tuesday, March 21, 2023. 5:56 pm CST.

By Hugh O’Brien: In recent years, an increasing amount of Sargassum seaweed has been affecting the beaches along the Caribbean Sea, particularly on the coastline in Mexico and Belize, and as far north as Florida, posing a threat to the environment and the tourism industry. This brown algae, under the conditions of the Caribbean Sea, blooms in large quantities, emits an unpleasant odor or strong stench, and creates a challenge for local authorities and residents.

International news outlets report that Sargassum has been appearing more frequently in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. In 2018, the seaweed reached unprecedented levels, covering beaches in Mexico and forcing the closure of some resorts. The following year, it spread to the Caribbean, and it has continued to appear in significant amounts since then. This year, CNN reports that the current Sargassum bloom has grown to a staggering size in the Atlantic Ocean. Accordingly, the 2023 bloom is much larger than previous seasons and is estimated to be about twice the width of the continental USA.

In early March, BBN reported that the Placencia Village Council was concerned about the buildup of Sargassum on the beaches along the Placencia peninsula. “It’s really bad. We need all the help we can get,” the Placencia Village Council posted on their Facebook page. In San Pedro, the Sargassum that docked on the beaches became so intense that the San Pedro Town Council launched a community effort, hiring temporary employees to clean the beaches and encouraging residents and businesses to join in the effort.

Sargassum can harm marine life, as it can suffocate and kill coral reefs and seagrass beds. It can also endanger human health, releasing hydrogen sulfide gas, which causes respiratory problems and skin irritation.

In the case of Mexico, the government there has taken proactive steps to tackle the Sargassum issue. In Cancun, barriers and booms are placed offshore to trap the seaweed and make it easier to remove before it reaches the beaches. According to Loop Caribbean, the Mexican government recently launched a new initiative that deploys specialized boats equipped with nets to collect the seaweed before it reaches the shore. The boats then transport the gathered seaweed to onshore processing plants, where it can be transformed into fertilizer, fuel, or bioplastics.

Other methods to manage the Sargassum issue include planting mangroves and seagrass beds to absorb the nutrients that Sargassum feeds on.

The Mexican government’s proactive approach is commendable, and other coastal communities can adopt similar measures. However, a global effort is necessary to address the root causes of the Sargassum influx, including pollution and climate change, to ensure that the coastlines remain safe and healthy.

For Belize the Sargassum seaweed is a pressing issue that requires urgent attention in both the coastal towns and the tourism destinations of San Pedro, the offshore cayes, Hopkins and Placencia.

 

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