After booking a Caribbean blue vacation, reports began to circulate about a mass of seaweed crowding the shore and polluting the water. People complained about the clarity being diminished and the white sand being littered from north to south. All of these reviews may leave questions about vacation timing and if it will be enjoyable. Unfortunately, most reviews are written from a purely hedonistic point of view and not from facts and the health of the ocean.
Before any hesitancy develops about your upcoming stay at Villa del Palmar Cancún, let us clarify this situation.
Sargassum is a type of seaweed originating in the Sargasso Sea, hence the name. It has numerous species, but S. natans and S. fluitans are what have been making headlines as these two types are free floating and have vegetative or asexual reproduction, meaning there can be a lot of it in the right conditions. Those thriving parameters aligned back in 2011 when the first huge bloom of Sargassum spread out in masses throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean swamping the coasts from Florida down to Belize.
Many wonder why now, and scientists have come to a number of conclusions, but the two primary culprits are warmer waters and nutrient run-off from agricultural fertilizers and industries. The seaweed is in hyperdrive, and we should be grateful. As our demands on this planet and the ocean increase, many of nature’s natural survival mechanisms have kicked in, and Sargassum seaweed is one such defense tactic.
Floating seaweed provides a new and rehabilitating habitat for many different species of fish and sea life including several on the endangered species list and a few who cannot live anywhere else. There is even a small fish named after the Sargassum because of its natural camouflage to live among the plant. It also provides a natural food source to different sea creatures including the beloved green sea turtles. It helps to hide smaller species like shrimp, crabs and turtle hatchlings from predators to help repopulate our oceans.
This prolific plant is working hard to clean the water and the shores. When it is out at sea and the round “berry” pods, which are filled with gases, like oxygen, lose their air, the seaweed sinks and nourishes the ocean floor. It then becomes a food source for other species that live in the deep waters. At it washes ashore, it protects the sand from erosion allowing it to build back up and not wash out with the storms. Those numerous little creatures who live within, also wash up on shore and provide a plentiful food source for sea birds, gulls and pelicans.
It is rich in nutrients, so many communities are hauling it off as a natural fertilizer with similar if not better results than manure or man-made substances. In some areas, it is being used as a temporary landfill to aid in erosion during the rainy season.
This may all be wonderful for the planet, but we may still feel a bit of remorse over pristine vacation plans. The tourist industry understands, and that is why everyone is doing their best to protect the sea and the people. Resorts, businesses, communities and governments are actively removing the Sargassum each morning via whatever means necessary including beach combing, bulldozers and tractors. Because the bloom cannot be fully predicted and does not happen every day or even every week, all services are staying on-call throughout the season.
Villa del Palmar Cancún has taken all the necessary steps to clean up the shore and the immediate tide area as much as is possible to ensure those iconic white sands and turquoise bath waters. All visitors will still be able to enjoy soaking in the sun under gentle palm shade and wading out into the rolling waters. If you do encounter the Sargassum floating around you, take a moment to explore this independent eco-system. Find a snorkel set and head out to discover the rare species that travel with this amazing plant life. Embrace your inner curiosity and feel the shapes and textures of the plant and play with its natural buoyancy. It is not slimy or sticky. It will not discolor your hands or swimming gear, and it is not dangerous in any way.
Come experience this natural phenomenon while it lasts. Sargassum is not a reason to cancel a vacation. It’s a reason to take one!