Seaweed on the Beaches of the Riviera Maya: A Temporary and Unpredictable Nuisance

Sargassum on the beach at Paamul (Source: Q-Roo Paul)

While Linda and I were recently in Italy on vacation, she would begin each day by checking the webcam located on Akumal Bay just to see how things were going back at home.

Within a few days of leaving Mexico, she noticed that there was quite a bit of seaweed collecting on the shores. That was back in late February and we were hoping it would be gone before we returned — it wasn’t. The seaweed is still washing up in large quantities each day.

The seaweed is called sargassum (sargazo in Spanish) and it makes several appearances a year. There is no specific season for sargassum and it can show up at any time and in any quantity.

Most of the time, we don’t pay too much attention to it unless it lasts for more than a few weeks and/or starts coming in large, thick sheets (like it is now). Then it’s hard to ignore because it’s starts piling up on the shores and it doesn’t have a smell that many would describe as pleasant.

Sargassum in Akumal Bay (Source: Q-Roo Paul)

It’s not all bad though. The sargassum is beneficial to the ecosystem and serves as a nursery for over 100 species of fish and invertebrates and it provides shelter and food for sea turtles.

Of course, that information serves as little consolation for tourists who are here on vacation for a week and want to enjoy the beaches.

By the way, there was no sargassum in Cozumel when we visited the island a few days ago.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Since we’re retired and we live here full-time, we can wait to go to swimming at the beach until the sargassum disappears again. In the meantime, we’ll continue to monitor the situation from the vantage point of our favorite beach bar.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years and retired at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He moved to Mexico with his wife six days later to enjoy a laid-back, Caribbean lifestyle on a tight budget. In 2016, Paul started a blog to share information with other people who may be thinking of making the move to Mexico. The blog, Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us), has been viewed over a million times.

24 Comments on "Seaweed on the Beaches of the Riviera Maya: A Temporary and Unpredictable Nuisance"

  1. Thanks for the info. We will be there in July. We went to Dominican Republic in 2015 and experienced the seaweed our last two days and it requires bulldozers to move. Hoping we will be able to enjoy a few days without tons of seaweed. If not, it’s ok. Still will have fun.

    • 2015 was a really bad year for it. That’s when we moved to Mexico and the beaches were covered in more than a foot of it.

  2. Suzanne Monette Corey | March 22, 2018 at 11:05 am | Reply

    What is the sargassum like on Isla Mujeres? I have checked the webcam, but it just shows part of the island. It sure kept us out of the water in Pkays del Carmen when we were there in February.

  3. No seaweed here in Los Cabos gets clean daily:)

  4. Our beach at Cancun Plaza (Nizuc area) is raked daily and buried by our maintenance guys. Back breaking and thankless work, but because they keep up with it daily, we never get piles. And they’ve got it all raked by 10 am! (By the way, machinery to remove sargassum is not eco-friendly. It compacts the beach and can crush turtle eggs — in season.)

  5. Just like Linda, I check the web cam every morning and was surprised by how long it’s been there. We’ve been to Isla Mujeres many times and have encountered the seaweed but never as much or as long. It does get cleaned up each morning, just as your beach has been. Grateful for the explanation and yes, sometimes it is necessary for our ecosystem.

  6. time to look for seabeans 🙂

  7. My husband and I were in Yucalpeten a few years ago during the sargassum time.It was in some places as high as 4 feet. I found it a treasure trove of beautiful things. It was also full of a lot of not so beautiful things. After being there for weeks the local authority began to dig gigantic holes and bury it. I still came home with a trailer load of shells and driftwood .

  8. We spent 9 days on Ambergris Caye in February and the the amount of seaweed was crazy! It didn’t bother me much, but the amount of littler and debris tangled among the seaweed was terrible. I wondered if the tropical storms last fall had something to do with longer than normal seaweed season.

  9. Sargassum has been around for a long time. But it appears to be getting thicker, occurring more often and lasting for longer periods of time. I think that these changes are due in part to what we as inhabitants of the earth are doing on a daily basis. This can be seen by looking at many different areas of our planets ecosystem. Hopefully we can slow this decline if not reverse it before it is too late.

  10. Those who are saying that it gets cleaned up everyday have not experienced it when it’s REALLY bad.
    No amount of labor nor equipment to clean it up is sufficient. It piles up on the shore as fast as it can be raked.

  11. A regional conference regarding Sargassum was recently held in the British Virgin Islands – To see if there may be a cost effective way to keep it off the beaches and to find if it could be put to good use. One young entrepreneur devised a way to turn it into a liquid fertilizer. Research is being done into turning it into fish and animal feed.
    Though they have not yet found a final answer to the question, they are working together to analyze the makeup of the material and are encouraging a entrepreneurial collaborative approach. . . https://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/sargassum-collaborating-conserve-british-virgin-islands

    • That’s interesting, thanks for sharing that. I read another article a year or so ago that talked about the possibility of turning it into a biofuel

  12. Sargassum is actually an invasive species of seaweed from Asia. It is carried in the ballast tanks of cargo ships and has almost spread worldwide. Here in California it is very bad for the local ecosystem because it takes over the area’s where giant kelp grows.

  13. Hi Paul,
    First, I would like to tell you how much I have been enjoying your blog. It is the best one I have come across on the topic of expats living in Mexico!
    I would like to add to your post on the Sargasso invasion as there has been so much conflicting information.
    Sargasso is good for the environment when it is in the Atlantic as The Sargasso Sea…not so much when it makes landfall in large quantities. There have been several articles speaking to the reason as to why it is now happening more and more and the consensus seems to indicate that it is as a result of climate change.
    I am attaching a part of a notice from UNAM in Puerto Morelos:

    .Ecological impact

    The ecological impact on the beaches or places where it is placed is prolonged for a long time due to its chemical components. It affects flora, fauna, reefs, beaches and aquifer.

    Damage to health and ecosystems

    The releases sulphuric acid that causes allergies to people, and some microorganisms living in it are also toxic to the skin. Likewise, the gases they cause may be harmful to health. The Sargassum has led to the death of fish, turtles, octopus, small sharks and other small animals. Turtles can not get to spawn and the cubs can not reach the sea.

    For the quantities of sargassum that have reached our shores, it generates a thousand times more phosphorus, causing more algae to grow than corals.

    In the coffee tide of the sargassum (Coffee-colored water), the amount of oxygen in water decreases causing the death of fish and the proliferation of bacteria.

    The sargassum also severely affects marine pastures and grasslands causing more erosion.

    It has been seen that the effect of the beach (for the amount that has been exaggerated) has been extended for more than a year and the impact on the marine meadow can be extended to 60 years.

    Note: it is important not to confuse the sargassum with the sea grass that inhabits our shores, because this is an important part of the region’s ecosystem.

    Contrary to what is believed, by burying it on the beach, the ecosystem is irreversibly and irreversibly damaged. It is ideal to create a system to collect it at sea, shortly before it reaches the beach.

    Is not recommended in open because it is in itself an ecosystem and shelter of some marine species and is essential for the marine life cycle. If you have already reached the beach, you must not use heavy machinery for your eviction, because the equipment will make the water more and more contributing to erosion.

    By placing it in sascaberas, the water table is contaminated because of its high concentrations of phosphorus and arsenic. It is very important to bring down the myth that the sargassum becomes sand.

    Possible uses of: the emissions and is believed to be used for the production of biofuels and fertilizers, but further research is needed.

    The studies that have been done so far advise not to use it as a fertilizer, but to mix it with a low percentage with some type of compost. Its natural composition does not allow for use for food purposes due to its high concentration of arsenic. The production of cookies must be stopped because their is dangerous.

    It is important to think that the issue of sargassum is not a question of tourist image, but an ecological problem and even health.

    Agency of the dra. Brigitta ine of tussenbroek ribbink

    Researcher of the academic unit of the systems of the

    Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo.

    Mail: Vantuss@Cmarl.Unam.Mx

  14. Diane McNair | March 22, 2018 at 2:36 pm | Reply

    The problem with burying the sargazo is that it eventually decays and destroys the white sand beach. It also turns the water brown! It is a quick fix but a long term problem.

  15. I am reposting an article that was posted on our Facebook page…friends of Puerto Morelos

    Note and information on sargassum in the Mexican Caribbean

    Summary of the research carried out by Dr. Brigita Ine Van Tussenbroek Ribbink, researcher of the Academic Unit of the Reef Systems Unit of the UNAM, in Puerto Morelos.

    Origin of the sargassum: It is not known exactly the origin of the sargassum that has arrived in the last two years to the coasts of the Mexican Caribbean. It is of a different species than that found in the Sargasso Sea, in the Atlantic. Apparently, the sargasso of the Caribbean comes from the coasts of Brazil and affects the beaches of the countries of the Caribbean Sea, it has even reached the beaches of Africa.

    Why did you get so much sargasso?

    It is thought that it is because of the excess nutrients that reach the sea through the rivers. It has been seen that the sargassum can double its biomass in 20 days.

    Previously there was not so much sargasso. In the Sargasso Sea there is (or was) little nitrogen and phosphorus, and as a result there are (or were) less nutrients. Currently this situation could have changed. It is not known why studies have not been carried out.

    Ecological impact

    The ecological impact on the beaches or places where it is placed is prolonged for a long time due to its chemical components. It affects the flora, the fauna, the reefs, the beaches and the aquifer mantle.

    Damage to health and ecosystems

    Sargassum releases sulfuric acid that causes allergies in people, and some microorganisms that live in it are also toxic to the skin. Likewise, the gases released can be harmful to health. Sargassum has caused the death of fish, turtles, octopus, small sharks and other small animals. Turtles can not reach spawning and offspring can not reach the sea.

    Due to the quantities of sargassum that have reached our coasts, a thousand times more phosphorus is generated, causing more algae to grow than corals.

    In the brown tide of the sargasso (brown water), the amount of oxygen in the water decreases causing the death of fish and the proliferation of bacteria.

    Sargassum also severely affects seagrasses and grasslands causing further erosion.

    It has been seen that the effect of sargassum on the beach (due to the exaggerated amount that has arrived) is prolonged for more than a year and the impact on the seagrass can extend up to 60 years.

    Note: It is important not to confuse the sargassum with the marine grass that inhabits our coasts, as this is an important part of the ecosystem of the region.

    Contrary to what is believed, when buried on the beach the ecosystem is damaged in a constant and irreversible way. The ideal is to create a system to collect it at sea, shortly before it reaches the beach.

    It is not advisable to collect it in the open sea because the sargassum is in of itself an ecosystem and refuge of some marine species and is essential for the marine life cycle. If it has already reached the beach, heavy machinery should not be used for its removal, since the equipment harms the sand more, contributing to erosion.

    When placed in sascaberas, the water table is contaminated due to its high concentrations of phosphorus and arsenic. It is very important to tear down the myth that sargassum turns into sand.

    Possible uses of sargassum

    Sargassum emits gases and it is believed that it can be used to make biofuels and fertilizers, however more research is needed.

    The studies that have been done until now advise not to use it directly as fertilizer, but to mix it in small amounts with some type of compost. Its natural composition does not allow it to be used for alimentary purposes, due to its high concentration of arsenic. Cookies made from it must be stopped, because their consumption is dangerous.

    It is important to reflect on the fact that sargassum is not a matter of tourist image, but rather an ecological and even health problem.

    Data from Dr. Brigitta Ine Van Tussenbroek Ribbink

    Researcher of the Academic Unit of Arrecifales Systems of the UNAM

    Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo.

    Mail: vantuss@cmarl.unam.mx

    This information was shared by Moce Yax Cuxtal AC @Blanca Ornelas from Playa del Carmen TV.

  16. Hello, thank you for this blog, it’s gives a vivid picture of what to expect if one is planning to reside in mexico. I want to ask what are the prospects for jobs in Mexico for engineers who are not citizens and who doesn’t speak Spanish.

  17. Lori Redmond | March 30, 2018 at 8:09 pm | Reply

    Paul, any idea if there is seaweed in Tulum these days?

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