Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Little Love for the Sargasso in the Riviera Maya

Anyone who has traveled to any beach destination in the Caribbean this year has noticed the abundance of seaweed on our shores, Riviera Maya beaches included. We have seen a huge increase in the amount of sargasso on the beach, more than I have seen in my almost 12 years here. While tourists complain, I have to say, let's show a little love and respect to nature, there are GOOD things to be said about this natural phenomenon.

"The Sargasso Sea" is an area of the Atlantic Ocean roughly 1100 kms wide and 3200 kms long, home to the seaweed called "sargassum". There are no physical boundaries to the sea, only the currents of the Atlantic mark its boundaries. Christopher Columbus reported on the vast expanse of seaweed on his 1492 crossing to the new world, erroneously thinking it meant land was near.

So why the heck is there SO MUCH SEAWEED this year? My research came up with a lot of speculation and no real answers. Changing climate, changing patterns of the sea, pollution, rising sea temperatures, nobody can nail it down to just one reason, it just IS. Who are we to question Mother Nature?

The sargasso is a vital eco-system unto itself, home to many species of ocean life. Sea turtles rely on sargasso for protection from predators as they make their way through the oceans. It is a floating refuge for crabs, shrimp, and a wide variety of fish who take advantage of the rich feeding ground and use it as a safe place for breeding. When the sargasso washes ashore, it nourishes the beaches and prevents erosion, as well as creating a food source for birds and other beach creatures.

Is the sargasso a danger to humans? NOPE. Some people may have an allergic reaction to some of the critters that live within (insects etc after it is washed ashore) but the seaweed itself is harmless. You can walk on it, pick it up, swim through it and enjoy knowing what an incredible source of life it is. It is not slimy or "icky" when fresh, though when it dries it can be a bit crunchy underfoot. The resorts of the Riviera Maya and Cancun have crews working throughout the day to try to clear the beaches, but it really is a Sisyphean task.

So while some may not think it's pretty (up close it's lovely really, like little bunches of teeny tiny grapes) and it may interfere with your picture-postcard vision of the beach, it is a natural and integral part of a healthy ocean. So let's show a little love to the sargasso, get past our human need for "perfection" and salute the plant that brings LIFE to the sea and our beaches.

What are your thoughts and experiences with sargasso? Let us know in the comments!

(photos property of  CancunCanuck © , shot with GoPro Hero Silver, please do not use without permission)


212eric said...

Sargasso For President in 2016!!!

norm said...

I was down Majahual way last winter, the beaches were fouled with lots of seaweed. The resort owners were paying a lot of people to clean it up. The men cleaning it up said it made the best compost for the flower beds.

Steve Cotton said...

Thanks for the information. It is quite a sight to see in the midst of the Atlantic.

CancunCanuck said...

@212eric You got it haha!

Norm, it can be a great resource if used properly, absolutely!

Steve, I saw some aerial photos in my research, magnificent!

Wendy said...

I appreciate the ecological benefits of the seaweed and believe that things in nature happen for a reason, however...
For those of us with very limited time available to escape a cold winter, the seaweed can put a damper on swimming in an otherwise beautiful, turquoise Caribbean sea. I found I had to limit my time in the ocean this past March in Tulum, otherwise the seaweed left a rash on my arms.

CancunCanuck said...

Sorry to hear that Wendy, I know it can be frustrating, particularly if you have a physical effect. Hopefully it is a phase of nature that will pass soon and you can return to the beauty of Tulum. :)

Unknown said...

You are right in mentioning all the benefits for the environment related with the Sargasso and other seaweed species. however I have to mention that the huge amounts of sargasso recently accumulating in the beaches of the Riviera Maya are by no means a natural occurrence, it may be in fact an indicator of something very wrong happening in the golf of Mexico. As some studies are showing this could be caused by an increase in the levels of nitrogen present in the water, the source of this nitrogen are the tons of inorganic fertilizers being applied to the agricultural lands up in the Mississippi watershed which drains all or parts of 31 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces.
While nitrogen is an important macronutrient for plants, the applied form is highly soluble in water and a large percentage of it gets flushed away by the watershed system and ends up in the gulf, affecting the biodiversity of the whole area. It produces algae blooms that deplete the oxigen for fishes and other sea species, thus creating monodiversity "deserts" where only jellyfish and sargasso can thrive.
By the way I´m a mexican in B.C. Canada, I hope you are enjoying my country as much as I´m enjoying yours.

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