Things That Matter

Cancun Has a Major Algae Problem and The Cause Could Be Global Warming

For the past several years, Cancun has notoriously become one of The Summer Spots. With promises of cheap beer, crystal clear surf and fun hangs, tourists typically flock to the vacation destination for good times in the spring and summer in troves. The location’s sands, beaches, and resorts are typically packed by this time of year, but a nasty visitor is washing up on the shores of these beaches, scaring off the usual summertime travel industry.

For the past several months, an invasion of seaweed-like algae hasn’t been just an eyesore for tourists, it’s also been a nasal deterrent.

Hundreds of pounds of seaweed-like algae is washing up on the shores of Cancun and it’s ruining the city’s tourist season.

Twitter / @tictoc

The past several months, the sunny resort town has been inundated with slimy, brown seaweed-like algae. It’s name is sargassum and it has washed up all along the coast around Cancun; stretching all the way down to Playa del Carmen and even further to Tulum. With the stench of rotten eggs, the algae smells just as gross as it looks and makes for a pretty unappealing soggy mess. It’s definitely not the sort of beach conditions that encourage tourists to visit.

Though Cancun businesses are feeling the effects of this invasion, the president of Mexico isn’t as concerned. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has reportedly called the problem controllable and has only allocated 2.6 Million for the removal of the algae. The removal is a slow process — being shoveled away by city workers — but the lack of resources makes the task even more difficult. Also, the endless onslaught of fresh algae with every tide doesn’t help. Even using front loaders and trucks for the cleanup, the work takes several hours and results in an algae-covered beach only moments later.

Officials aren’t certain what the cause of this algae is but there are clues that point to it being caused by major global issues.

Twitter / @DKaimowitz

Scientists have suggested that the increase in algae is caused by the warming of our Earth because of the global climate change we are currently experiencing. This is the same hypothesis that has been suggested to explain Florida’s Red Tide. Earlier this month, scientists at the University of South Florida used satellite imaging to discover the largest bloom of the algae in the world. It’s being called the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt and it is impacting beaches along North, Central, and South America.

Others believe that deforestation is to blame for the assault of algae on these beaches. Due to the logging and increased use of herbicide and fertilizers by Brazilian lumber companies in the Amazon forest, dangerous runoff flows into the ocean. The nutrients in these fertilizers encourage the growth of the algae; causing super blooms to occur.

In a release about a study of these super blooms, Dr. Chuanmin Hu of the USF College of Marine Science expressed concern about the state of the Atlantic ocean. He has predicted that:

“The ocean’s chemistry must have changed in order for the blooms to get so out of hand.”

Regardless of what the Mexican president and scientists say, locals who face this problem every day are the ones most impacted by the algae.

Twitter / @newsnest00

Tourism in the community has taken a major hit during a time when Mexico is already heading towards a recession. The first three weeks of June, hotel occupancy in the area dropped by 3.4%. Air travel to the city also saw numbers that aren’t as optimistic as Cancun usually sees during this time of year. It only claimed 1.2%, the smallest amount of growth that the area has seen since 2011.

It isn’t just the international travel industry that loses money to the algae. In a city like Cancun, as much as 40% of jobs are tied to tourism alone. Events like this — that impact the beaches so severely — threaten the livelihood of locals. The Mexican transportation industry, local artisans, restaurants, beach resorts, and sight-seeing locations depend on this busy season to provide the bulk of their yearly income. In order to lure travelers, hotels in the area are even running specials. In many places in Cancun, tourists can get as much as 20% off rooms and free transportation to unaffected beaches.

Cleaning up after this mess will take a lot more than a few hundred shovels.

Twitter / @ElCanaco

Reversing the effects of climate change can not really be accomplished on an individual level. Realistically, a single person does not cause this damage. Instead, it is large conglomerations that hurt our Earth with their anti-environmental policies. Until the governments of the world decide to hold these companies accountable, nothing productive will be done to stop this damage.

Right now, we’re seeing this onslaught of algae but who knows what is in store for our environment if we don’t make major improvements soon. It’s more than just our Cancun vacations that are counting on these changes.

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