Sargassum tide 4 times the size of Merida headed to Yucatan’s Gulf Coast

Winds are pushing foul algae from Dzilam de Bravo to Sisal

Satellite images pick up sargassum tides along the Yucatan Peninsula. Photo: Courtesy
Satellite images pick up sargassum tides along the Yucatan Peninsula. Photo: Courtesy

A tide of sargassum is expected to foul 120 kilometers of beach from Dzilam de Bravo to Sisal on Yucatan’s Gulf Coast today.

The mass of seaweed-like algae is three or four times the size of the city of Merida, satellite images show. It already has hit Cancun and other beach spots along the Caribbean side of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Now, the large drifting island is headed from the Caribbean Sea, through the Yucatan Strait and into the Gulf of Mexico, reports El Financiero.

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While resorts on the Caribbean side have constructed barriers to offset the attack, no such precautions have been installed on the Gulf side.

Esteban Amaro, of the Sargasso Monitoring Network of Cancun, said that easterly winds are pushing sargassum to the Gulf after plaguing Quintana Roo since April.

Amaro said that in addition to the southbound winds, the currents have changed in the last hours, which has dragged the algae to another area. In Yucatan, sargasso beds were reported Saturday in Progreso, but not of the magnitude expected.

Great swaths of sargassum algae, originating from Atlantic waters off South America, have also been washing up onto Florida coastlines and into basins and canals.

Although a vital habitat for marine species, the massive amounts of it washing up on Atlantic beaches — from the Florida Keys to Cape Canaveral, and in even greater quantities in the Caribbean and Mexico — can be harmful to ocean life, besides being a nuisance for residents and beachgoers.

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When mats of the macroalgae wash into basins and inlets, the water becomes oxygen-depleted enough to start killing off sea life. Last week, a Florida Keys community found an untold numbers of parrotfish, snapper and other species dead and decaying in their tidal basin.

Ensnared among the clumps of thick sargassum in the shallows and on shore, nesting sea turtles also struggle to reach the beaches, and turtle hatchlings are dying without a clear path to the ocean.

“Sargassum was something that was really unique and deserving of protection,” Brian Lapointe, Ph.D., a research professor for Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, told the Florida Keys Free Press. “All of a sudden, global change is going on and sargassum is becoming harmful. Now it’s the largest harmful algal bloom on Earth.”

Ever since a worrisome explosion of the thick, brown seaweed appeared back in 2011, the snowballing predicament has been plaguing the Caribbean and Mexico.

Scientists are speculating that the excessive algae may actually be among the unforeseen consequences of deforestation in South America.

“There has been a lot of deforestation in the Amazon Basin and a major increase in fertilizer use,” Lapointe said. “Coupled with extremely heavy rain, as a result of global climate change, that feeds the bloom.”

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Easterly winds this time of year have fueled the spread of sargassum off South America and the Gulf of Mexico, where the Loop Current carries it through the Florida Keys and onto the mainland’s coastline. When the stuff rots, it releases toxic hydrogen-sulfide gas, making seashores smell like rotting eggs. Its effects on tourism in the Caribbean have been catastrophic.

2018 was a record year for sargassum blooms.

“Last year the bloom never ended. This time of year is when it’s at its worst and there is no sign of an improved situation. It does not look good,” said Chuanmin Hu, a University of South Florida professor specializing in optical oceanography.

Sources: El Financiero, TravelPulse

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