A mass of sargassum seaweed the size of Jamaica is heading to Mexico
A gigantic mass of sargassum algae is heading towards the Mexican coast - Photo: File Photo/EL UNIVERSAL

A mass of sargassum seaweed the size of Jamaica is heading to Mexico

08/07/2019
15:47
Newsroom/EL UNIVERSAL in English
Mexico City
World Economic Forum
-A +A
The 8850-kilometer-long Sargassum belt extends from West Africa to the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico

The World Economic Forum has released an alarming report.

Although it is a favorite among tourists, the Mexican Caribbean is covered by rotting seaweed, contributing to an economic and ecological crisis.

The issue has been caused by an increase of Sargassum algae, which washed ashore from the nearby Sargasso Sea because although there has been sargassum in that part of the ocean for a long time, its growth rate has rapidly increased in recent years; so much so that in 2018, sargassum almost spanned the Atlantic from West Africa to the Caribbean.

And unfortunately, things are set to get worse.

What us behind sargassum?

At around 550 kilometers in length, another mass of sargassum algae is heading towards the Mexican coast. It’s roughly the same size as the island of Jamaica, and when it arrives in Mexico, it could stretch all the way south along the Yucatán Peninsula to Belize.

One of the core causes behind sargassum is deforestation. In addition to contributing to global warming, it also causes soil erosion, which in turn, leads to surplus nutrients being washed into rivers and flowing into the ocean.

Rising nutrient and nitrogen levels have several effects on the seawater. One is to limit the amount of oxygen in the water, creating dead zones, according to the US National Ocean Service. The other is to promote the growth of seaweed and algal blooms, like the Sargasso seaweed that is now swamping Mexican beaches.

What is sargassum?

The huge sargassum algae islands that form out at sea are living entities. They also provide shelter for myriad tiny marine organisms but once they wash ashore, the algae dies and starts to decompose. Toxic gases are then released into the air, while acid and heavy metals are left behind to make their way into the sea, altering the water’s acidity levels and further depleting oxygen.

And the effect of the chemicals leaching first into the ground and then into the sea is to poison the offshore waters, killing marine life. It is also contributing to the so-called white syndrome, which kills coral tissue.

Furthermore, Sargassum seaweed is having an enormous negative impact on tourism, which contributes 8.7% to Mexico’s gross domestic product and is worth around USD $23 billion annually. So far, the government estimates a drop of 30% in some affected areas.

Sargassum algae has affected Mexico since 2015, nevertheless, each year, the amount of seaweed that arrives in Mexico has increased exponentially.

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Sargassum plague invades Mexican Caribbean againSargassum plague invades Mexican Caribbean again

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