Saving Paradise: Facing Sargassum
SOS!! Houston, we have a problem......and a solution too!
So, what´s the deal with Sargassum?
Sargassum is a type of algae that is reproducing exponentially, turning once-turquoise waters chocolate, changing the chemistry of ocean water, piling up high, stinking on the beaches, driving hotel occupancy rates down, threatening to kill marine and coastal life, and, well.. basically presenting the start of the end of paradise.
Sounds dramatic? Yes, and it´s all true.
This July 2019, I went to the Mayan Riviera myself to check things out. I found out the truth and climate reality, regarding sargassum, shark whales, turtles, iguanas, waste management, and more. I talked to A LOT of people to get their perspectives and insight. Waiters, security guards, taxi drivers, tourists, business owners, hotel owners, cleaning ladies.. basically, the locals, those who have eyes and ears on the ground 24/7, over the year, over the years.
I have bad news in all of the above-mentioned topics, but lets continue talking about sargassum... An estimated 50,000 tons/month of the algae is arriving to the shores in Quintana Roo, Mexico.. alone. The Mayan Riviera, once among the most beautiful beaches in the planet, is now a sea of sargassum. Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Xpu-ha, Xian Kan, and other irreplaceable natural heritage, are currently lost to this algae.
So why is it so bad?
It´s excessive. It´s killing marine life. It smells terrible. It has changed our beaches completely...but the impact is not only environmental.
The dimensions of this problem is not only environmental, but also social, and economic. Over 46 million people visit the Caribbean every year, and spend over US$31 billion, normally. 2.4 million people work in the tourism industry, and with tourism at a decline, this jobs are at risk!
Hotels are offered at a discounted price, Airbnb´s are available, restaurants have one or two tables busy with customers only, shops have seen a decline in sales, waiters don´t have their tips, and a lot of families are worried about their income.
This situation, bad enough as it already is, is not only an environmental, social, and economic disaster, but is also a threat to security. Without jobs, and with families to feed, people need other sources of income, and become targets of recruitment for organized crime & illegal activities.
During my trip to the Riviera Maya last month, I saw the impact, personally. The transformation is unreal. The paradise in my memories, and those of billions of people, lost.. and instead, a chocolate sea of seaweed, the once white, sandy-beaches, home to nesting turtles, turned a waste-yard of rotting algae, piling up high, costing millions daily to be recovered in the areas belonging to hotels that can afford it-only.
So, after this, and much more other angles to climate reality than those I comment now, after getting insight on Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel Holbox, and the rest of the Mayan Riviera, after having seen with my own eyes, and having heard the information directly, I am more convinced than ever. We can act on this problem, but in order to scale to the volumes required to make a difference, all sectors need to jump in fast. The magnitud of the impact is beyond the control of the governments, hotels, citizens, or ngos alone.
I came back home, to see what we can do about this, and I have a solution, something we need to work on urgently.
The entire coast from Florida to Brazil is affected. In the USA, coasts in Florida, Texas, and other locations in the Gulf of Mexico will have to deal with sargassum.
The Caribbean coast and island states are badly hit as well. Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, French Guyana, Colombia, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Cuba, all share a new problem now.
In the pacific, Seychelles, is also affected, while nearby Indonesia, is also hit. Meanwhile, some of European coasts, and inland fresh water sources have a similar problem now. Some of the beaches in Bretagne, France, have been forced to warn against the toxic emissions of green algae decomposing in great volumes on their shores.