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Fighting the Sargassum Invasion

All life on earth is ultimately dependent upon the oceans. Therefore, ensuring and maintaining healthy marine ecosystems is paramount, not only from an ecological point of view, but economically speaking. For instance, tourism in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, generates over 1,5 billion dollars every year. A considerable part of this income is generated from eco-tourism or activities highly dependent on the quality of beaches and the sea (e.g. resorts, SCUBA-diving, snorkeling, etc.).

Sargassum beach
Photo credits: Sargassum beach by Mark Yokoyama

Every year, from April to August, a bloom of Sargassum seaweed occurs in the waters of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. However, the heavy use of fertilizers around the area, as well as the poor water treatment and management measures, significantly increased the quantity of seaweed present by enhancing its growth, consequently smothering the beaches and coastal waters of the Riviera Maya and Cozumel. This can have highly detrimental effects on human health, and both water quality and aesthetics, as well as on the biodiversity present in the area, consequently having a strong negative impact on the local economy by reducing tourism. Cleaning campaigns have been organised for a few years now, involving both professionals and hundreds of citizens, to rid the beaches and water of this invasive seaweed. For example, the movement # UnidosPorQuintanaRoo (United for Quintana Roo) was started in this Mexican state, notably in Cancun and neighbouring beaches, where volunteers collected over 45 tons of Sargassum.

Additionally, the Mexican government announced the creation of a floating fence to minimise the access of Sargassum near the shores, as well as the intervention of the Mexican Army to help spot aggregation of the seaweed and extract them from the ocean surface.

It is clear that a more pro-active approach would have saved time, effort and millions of dollars to both the Mexican government and local communities. It is therefore of utter importance that the governments start working alongside its citizens and the international community to attempt to mitigate these events in the future, considering not only the economic side of the question but also the social and environmental aspects.

At Cyan Planet, we believe that a multidisciplinary approach and international cooperation are crucial for creative and effective problem solving in a world that so desperately needs our help. We want to highlight the importance of citizen science, which has demonstrated several times that there is no need to be a scientist in order to care about the environment and contribute to the effort of mitigating the anthropogenic impact our ecosystems are faced with.

Turtle in the Sargassum seaweed
Photo credits: Mission Accomplished by Fiana Shapiro


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