Our Environment

Sargassum: Desirable or Undesirable?

Vanessa spoke with some local experts to find out more about the seaweed that washes up on our shores in the summer months

I love the beautiful white sandy beaches of Cozumel. However, every year an undesirable visitor called sargassum affects the postcard-perfect crystal waters of the Caribbean sea.

What is sargassum? Do we have to remove it from the beach? I asked some local experts.

Elsa M. Arcila Torres, Subdirector of Ecology Cozumel

Sargassum-rgb“Sargassum is a natural and healthy phenomenon which happens every year in the Caribbean sea. It is a brown, free-floating alga that grows on water and does not stick to the ocean floor. The structure of the plant is made up of leafy appendages, branches, and berries. These berries are actually gas-filled structures, called pneumatocysts, which are filled mostly with oxygen. These thick masses of sargassum provide a food source, home, and shelter to an amazing variety of marine species (plants, shrimp, crabs, birds, fish, turtles and whales). When sargassum loses its buoyancy, it sinks to the seafloor, providing energy in the form of carbon to fishes and invertebrates in the deep sea.

Too much sargassum on the beach – as occurred in 2015 – can make it complicated for nesting sea turtles to arrive at the shore, and for hatchlings to reach the sea. For two years now, the quantity of sargassum has been normal on our shores, but it is still removed because it can affect tourism.”

One week ago, a group of workers from Zofemat started to remove the sargassum from the beaches.

Luz del Alba Polanco Trujillo Director of Zofemat

”We have been coordinating to remove sargassum from our beaches, particularly in the popular places. We put it to dry on dato1the beach close to the road and it will become sand in a few weeks. The decomposition of sargassum in the water creates an unpleasant smell and affects our visitors.

Every day of the year, we are cleaning rubbish from the beaches too, in coordination with Ecology Cozumel and the schools. We have a nice program called “Adopta una Playa” (Adopt a Beach to Clean). Everybody is welcome to join.”

Sargassum plays a role in beach nourishment and is an important element of shoreline stability. The only question is, are we ready to include this natural brown plant in our holiday pictures?

 

Adopta una Playa: Facebook/@AdoptaunaplayaCozumel

 

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