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Toxic algae that ‘smells like rotten egg’ is invading beaches along 600 miles of Mexico’s coast

The typically idyllic white sandy shores and aquamarine waters of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula are being plagued by an unwelcome and unappealing invasion of rotting seaweed, called sargassum.

For a number of years the foul-smelling algae has been washing up on the shores of Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum in increasing quantities, turning the water brown and blanketing beaches with a brown sludge.

The thick macroalgae also brings with it a pungent ‘rotten egg’ stench as it decays in the hot summer sun.

But this year has ranked among the worst for the region with officials warning that a floating island of the seaweed the size of Jamaica is bobbing a short distance away from the shore.

‘I have never seen sargassum arrivals in such massive quantities,’ said Susana Enríquez to the WSJ, a reef systems expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University in Puerto Morelos.

The typically idyllic white sandy shores and aquamarine waters of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula are being plagued by an unwelcome and unappealing invasion of rotting seaweed, called sargassum

Some 600 miles of Mexico's Caribbean coast has seen its beaches affected by an invasion of seaweed

Some 600 miles of Mexico’s Caribbean coast has seen its beaches affected by an invasion of seaweed

The thick macroalgae also brings with it a pungent ‘rotten egg’ stench as it decays in the hot summer sun

The thick macroalgae also brings with it a pungent ‘rotten egg’ stench as it decays in the hot summer sun

However, the algae threatens to do more damage than just permeate the air with a bad smell. Officials also fear it could have a huge effect on the region’s vital tourism industry, which employs four million people and is worth $100 billion per year.

‘Recent experience has shown that negative images can quickly discourage travelers in an industry that relies heavily on user-generated content and online reservations,’ an analyst from Moody’s Investors Service determined.

Already this year, bookings in hotels across Cancun and Puerto Morelos have seen a sharp drop of 3.5%, despite room prices dropping from between 15%-25% on this time last year.

Officials believe increases in violent crimes and the anti-immigration rhetoric regularly voiced by President Trump is also said to have had a knock-on effect.

The Mexican government has spent in excess of $17 million to remove over a half-million tons of sargassum seaweed from its Caribbean beaches this year, but the problem doesn’t seem likely to end any time soon.

‘Fighting sargassum is a chore every day,’ said Cancun Mayor Mara Lezama last month. ‘You clean the beaches in the morning, and sometimes you clean them again in the afternoon or at night, and then you have to go back and clean it again.’

However, the algae threatens to do more damage than just permeate the air with a bad smell - officials also fear it could have a huge effect on the region’s vital tourism industry, which employs four million people and is worth $100 billion per year

However, the algae threatens to do more damage than just permeate the air with a bad smell – officials also fear it could have a huge effect on the region’s vital tourism industry, which employs four million people and is worth $100 billion per year

This year has ranked among the worst for the region, with officials warning that a floating island of the seaweed the size of Jamaica is bobbing a short distance away from the shore

This year has ranked among the worst for the region, with officials warning that a floating island of the seaweed the size of Jamaica is bobbing a short distance away from the shore

Ricardo del Valle, a business owner in the seaside resort of Playa del Carmen, said, ‘We offer sun and sand, nothing else. That is what we’re selling. And right now we’re fooling our tourists.’

Their anger increased last month when President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador visited the coast and downplayed the seriousness of the problem.

He recently said he would not contract out the work of cleaning up sargassum – or gathering it before it reaches shore – but will put the Mexican Navy in charge of building collector boats and cleaning the sea.

‘I haven’t talked much about this, because I don’t see it as a very serious issue, as some claim it is,’ Lopez Obrador said. ‘No, no, we’re going to solve it.’

Initial reports suggested the seaweed came from an area of the Atlantic off the northern coast of Brazil, near the mouth of the Amazon River. Increased nutrient flows from deforestation or fertilizer runoff could be feeding the algae bloom.

But experts like oceanographer Donald R. Johnson said, ‘Do not blame the Brazilians.’ Johnson said it appears that other causes contribute, like nutrient flows from the Congo River.

The Mexican government has spent in excess of $17 million to remove over a half-million tons of sargassum seaweed from its Caribbean beaches this year, but the problem doesn't seem likely to end any time soon

The Mexican government has spent in excess of $17 million to remove over a half-million tons of sargassum seaweed from its Caribbean beaches this year, but the problem doesn’t seem likely to end any time soon

Already this year, bookings in hotels across Cancun and Puerto Morelos have seen a sharp drop of 3.5%, despite room prices dropping from between 15%-25% on this time last year

Already this year, bookings in hotels across Cancun and Puerto Morelos have seen a sharp drop of 3.5%, despite room prices dropping from between 15%-25% on this time last year

Increased upwelling of nutrient-laden deeper ocean water in the tropical Atlantic and dust blowing in from Africa may also be playing a role, according to Johnson, a senior researcher at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

While it sometimes appears sargassum mats float west into the Caribbean, experts say the seaweed actually appears to be sloshing back and forth between the Caribbean and Africa.

‘Its ability to destroy already vulnerable ecosystems is profound,’ said. Enríquez. ‘It’s more than just a beach problem,’ she said, adding that sargassum can damage ecosystems like coral reefs by blocking vital sunlight, decomposing, and depleting the water of oxygen.

While it sometimes appears sargassum mats float west into the Caribbean, experts say the seaweed actually appears to be sloshing back and forth between the Caribbean and Africa

While it sometimes appears sargassum mats float west into the Caribbean, experts say the seaweed actually appears to be sloshing back and forth between the Caribbean and Africa

In an attempt to stem the onslaught, local officials have placed floating barriers in the ocean.

López Obrador has also since pledged $2.5 million in federal money to help with the efforts.

Mexico’s Navy said it’s collected 218 tons of sargassum since beginning operations to scoop up the seaweed in May.

Their extensive efforts, though, have had a limited effect.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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