A brown, smelly seaweed called sargassum is invading most popular destinations in the Caribbean, potentially ruining the vacations of millions of travelers this summer. Whilst most travelers head to the Caribbean in search of soft sand, clear blue seas and a vacation that’s a treat for all the senses, the reality this summer could be quite different – with top destinations such as Cancun, Punta Cana and Jamaica all recently succumbing to long, tough battles with the foul smelling algae.
Whilst it isn’t exactly a new problem, the unfortunate timing of the sargassum invasion comes just as many travelers were looking forward to going overseas once more after years of travel hell during the pandemic, meaning their long awaited travels are in serious jeopardy of being spoiled by the seaweed. Here’s a look at what sargassum is, which destinations have been affected by it and how the battle to remove it from beaches is going.
What Is Sargassum? Information For Travelers
Sargassum is a type of brown algae that frequently washes up on beaches across the Caribbean and even the United States. As the mountains of beached seaweed rots, it releases hydrogen sulfide – a gas which has an unpleasant odor similar to rotten eggs. Despite being completely harmless to humans, the unsightly and stinky nature of the rotting sargassum means that it runs the risk of ruining beach based activities for potentially millions of travelers this summer.
Where Is Sargassum Causing Problems? What Travelers Should Know
Sargassum is a serious issue in Mexico, where the presence of the seaweed has a huge negative impact on tourism. Cancun is expecting its worst sargassum season in five years, which is bound to affect local tourism levels and see travelers pick more sargassum-free areas to visit instead, such as Los Cabos. Extreme solutions have been mooted, such as the installation of a 60km-long sea barrier, as the country works to address the issue.
The Mexican Navy has also been working to prevent the seaweed from reaching the beach for years, with little success. This year, by using tools such as boats and nets, the Navy only managed to collect around 1% of the total amount of sargassum from the coast. The Navy cited equipment failures as the reason they have failed to prevent more from washing up on the beach, and lead them to conclude that they have failed in their efforts.
However, Mexico isn’t the only country to be suffering from the stinky seaweed. Sargassum has also invaded several beaches in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, with large concentrations found near the Iberostar Selection Bavaro and the Bahia Principe Punta Cana hotels in particular. Rather than the pristine beaches travelers are used to in the region, they are faced with unappealing, smelly, brown beaches – with the problem expected to worsen in the coming months.
Like Mexico, the Dominican Republic has tried in vain to control the spread of sargassum. A 12.7km barrier was installed to prevent it from reaching beaches, and armies of hotel workers attempted to clean them up, but it is expensive and time-consuming work. Like it has in previous years, the prevalence of sargassum is expected to have a negative impact on the number of hotel bookings in the region.
Jamaica’s National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) also warned that the country could be set for a significant influx of sargassum over the coming months. Several beaches in the parishes of St. Mary, Portland, St. Thomas and St. Catherine are already suffering from its presence, with the agency explaining that the prevalence of sargassum in the Caribbean is part of the “new normal”. Barbados too is also suffering from a sargassum invasion, with the problem expected to spread further throughout the region this summer.
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