What's with All the Sargassum?

Centro Ecólogico Akumal, August 2015

Sargassum, as this particular seaweed is known as, is naturally occurring in temperate and tropical waters. It is commonly found along our shores; however, this year there is a significant increase along the coast of Quintana Roo and throughout the Caribbean.

Sargassum in Akumal Bay

Mats of sargassum floating in the sea provide habitat and food for a variety of marine species, including hatchling turtles. On shore it helps build and reinforce beaches, preventing erosion during storms. As well, sargassum supplies nutrients to the seagrass beds, mangroves and coral reefs. But in the large amounts we are seeing, and if left to accumulate, the sargassum can pose a threat to coastal marine life.

WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS?

Besides it being a smelly eyesore for visitors and locals, there are two main and immediate ecological concerns. First, in large amounts, it can be an obstacle for nesting turtles making their way onto the beaches and for hatchlings making their way back to the sea. Second, if the sargassum is left in the shallows of the shoreline, it will decompose. The decomposition process consumes oxygen and depletes the oxygen supply available to marine life along the shoreline.

WHAT IS CEA DOING?

Removing the sargassum is a priority, particularly on turtle nesting/hatching beaches. While hotel, restaurant or property owners take care of the beach in front of their respective properties, the sheer volume of sargassum makes cleaning the beach a monumental task with the usual resources.

Akumal Bay
On July 27 through to July 29, the first massive beach cleanup took place in Akumal Bay. It was co-organized by CEA and the Akumal Dive Center yet the entire community pitched in. Over the course of the three-day cleanup, 180 tons of sargassum was removed and relocated to private lots and unused land around Akumal. Part of the organization involved planning with the proper environmental authorities, who provided specific guidelines and recommendations to follow, including the use of machinery to aid in the removal.

Half Moon Bay
On Saturday, August 8, a cleanup for Half Moon Bay was organized in collaboration with Vecinos de Akumal Norte. On site to help out were various homeowners and guests from Half Moon Bay, CEA staff and volunteers including students from Operation Wallacea, and staff/guides from AllTourNative. ZOFEMAT oversaw the activities to ensure proper protocol was followed. At the end of the day over 50 tons of sargassum was hauled away.

Organizing this cleanup alongside the Vecinos de Akumal Norte has become a great opportunity to formalize a working group which will foster effective communication and planning, not just for sargassum, but for other ecological issues that impact the area.

Akumal Sur
Property owners and staff in Akumal Sur have been working to remove the sargassum from the shoreline on a daily basis and placing the sargassum into piles. What needed to be done was to remove these piles from the beach.

A plan was put in place and on Wednesday, August 19, almost 40 individuals (property owners and staff, alongside CEA and ZOFEMAT employees) were on site with a Bobcat and a dump truck to remove the piles. Unfortunately, due to the beach composition, the Bobcat was unable to function properly in the soft sand. Plan B was put into place and the piles were removed in an assembly line of wheelbarrows and brute strength. All in all about, about 30 tons of sargassum was removed.

WHAT'S NEXT?

  • For Half Moon Bay, continue to work with the Vecinos de Akumal Norte to put strategies in place to continue cleanups on a regular basis.
  • For Akumal Bay, continue to work with the various stakeholders in the area and implement plans when large-scale efforts are required.
  • For Akumal Sur and Playa Tortuga, we continue to monitor and, if needed, will help put an action plan in place for these beaches.
  • Continue to inform the authorities of cleanup plans, document all evidence of the actions taken, report the results (according to government guidelines), and participate in the technical and scientific committees led by SEMARNAT.
  • Continue to monitor the bays to assess the impact the sargassum is having on water quality and reef health.


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