Visiting Cancun? Here’s an Update on Seaweed Conditions
If you’re planning a beach vacation for winter 2018 -2019 and have been worried about the current seaweed conditions in Cancun and Riviera-Maya, you’ll be pleased to know that the Cancun seaweed problem has substantially improved and there are many beaches without seaweed to enjoy.
I just returned from Cancun and was happy to see that Cancun’s beaches are recovering quite quickly from the historic influx of sargassum this summer. The seaweed is disappearing much more quickly in Cancun than it is along the beaches further south in Playa del Carmen, Akumal, Tulum and beyond.
Here’s an update on the current status of sargassum seaweed in the Cancun Hotel Zone, a list of the top beaches without seaweed, the best beaches for swimming and information on the seaweed forecast for the balance of 2018. There is also an update on the seaweed forecast for 2019.
Sargassum Seaweed Facts
What exactly is sargassum seaweed and why is it a problem? Sargassum is a type of brown algae that generally lies in the open ocean in the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic. Wrapped by ocean currents, this mat of seaweed floats on the surface of the water and serves as a resting area and spawning ground for a vast array of life from eels to sea turtles.
While sargassum seaweed is a natural phenomenon that has been occurring for centuries, the influx of sargassum in recent years have been larger, thicker and more widespread. Since 2011, blooms of sargassum have been appearing in the tropics sweeping up from South America through the Caribbean along the coast of Mexico and into the Gulf of Mexico and Florida. The summer of 2018 witnessed the worst influx of sargassum brown algae in recent history.
The quantity of the sargassum seaweed combined with differences in the composition of the seaweed itself, has been posing problems for destinations where vast quantities of seaweed are floating on the surface of the water, washing up on beaches, trapping marine life in the seaweed itself and using up the oxygen that fish need to breathe.
Various strategies — from raking it manually to using barriers to catch the sargassum before it reaches the shore — have been devised to try to deal with the unprecedented waves of seaweed that engulfed regions of the Caribbean and Mexico in 2018.
Is it Dangerous to Swim in Sargassum Seaweed?
Sargassum seaweed in itself doesn’t pose a problem, says Dr. Jeffrey Rapaport at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck (Emeritus head of Dermatology). Instead, it’s what the seaweed harbours that can cause skin irritations and other risks.
The seaweed when floating at the top of hot, shallow waters, can start to play host to microbes and strains of bacteria the skin is not accustomed to coming in contact with. Also, you have to remember that fish normally use sargassum as a breeding grounds — leaving toxins and eggs in seaweed.
With freshwater as well as saltwater swimmers should watch out for the growth of Cyanobacteria (which can normally be seen changing the water’s colour to light green). Cyanobacteria can release neurotoxins, which not only can affect the skin but can cause the death of neurons that control most of the muscles and movements in your body.
Another risk occurs when sargassum seaweed gathers in large quantities, washes up on beaches and begins to decompose, releasing hydrogen sulfide gas, or H2S , a colourless, poisonous gas with an unpleasant rotten-egg odor,
According to an interview in the San Pedro Sun with Eric Najarro, Administrator at the Dr. Otto Rodriguez San Pedro Polyclinic II in Belize, inhaling small doses of the gas can trigger irritation of the eyes, respiratory issues and nausea, especially among at-risk people such as those with asthma, the elderly, infants and pregnant women. Certain animals, especially dogs, are also sensitive to the inhalation of hydrogen sulfide.
Another health risk to swimming with large quantities of sargassum seaweed is the potential for skin irritations and rashes.
Seaweed Season in the Caribbean and Mexico
In the Caribbean, seaweed season is generally May to October. In 2018, the influx of sargassum seaweed hit its peak in the summer months. On June 7, the government of Barbados even declared a national emergency due to the enormous masses of sargasso on its beaches.
While some destinations such as Belize are still struggling with vast amounts of sargassum seaweed, the good news is that many of the beaches in the Caribbean never did experience a seaweed problem and others have seen a drastic reductions in the amount of seaweed in recent months.
The popular resort town of Playa del Carmen has been experiencing a double whammy of challenges in recent years. From the erosion of its beaches to an influx of sargassum seaweed along the coast of Quintana Roo, it’s been working hard on developing strategies to cope with these issues which are posing an environmental problem and preventing people from enjoying the coast’s famous beaches.
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Current Seaweed Conditions in Cancun 2018
The good news is that current seaweed conditions in Cancun, Mexico are much improved over what they were in the summer of 2018. The state of Quintana Roo received federal funding from the Natural Disasters Fund to help with the removal of the sargasso and that, has been combined with a reduction in the quantity of seaweed arriving on the beaches of Cancun and Riviera Maya.
I personally walked many of the beaches in Cancun in October and early November 2018 and noticed a significant reduction compared to previous months. While conditions do vary daily, during my inspections many beaches had no seaweed or there were just a few small clumps of seaweed in the water…nothing to be concerned about at all.
Best Cancun Beaches Without Seaweed – Playa Caracol
This beach stretches along the northern shores of what’s known as Punta Cancun or the most northerly point of the Cancun Hotel Zone. There is a ferry to Isla Mujeres departing from the pier between the Riu and the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun. The public beach has small amounts of seaweed but nothing that is bothersome.
Next door at the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun Resort & Spa, the private beach is completely clear of sargassum and features powder soft white sands and clear turquoise waters. The added advantage of this beach is that the waters are calm and the entry is gradual with no steep drop-off, making it ideal for those who aren’t expert swimmers.
In my opinion, this is the best beach in Cancun for swimming. Beginner swimmers, small children and seniors will all enjoy swimming at this beautiful beach.
Click here to check prices on Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun Resort & Spa.
Best Cancun Beaches Without Seaweed – Playa Gaviotas and Playa Gaviotas Azul
One of the most popular public beaches in Cancun, Playa Gaviotas Azul is located at the northern tip of the hotel zone. Beach access is between Coco Bongo and the Mandala Beach Club opposite Hooters via a narrow alleyway. Current seaweed conditions at Playa Gaviota Azul are much improved from what they were in the summer and even in early October.
During the first week of November 2018, any small clumps of seaweed on the sand were being raked up by hotel staff . There was very little sargassum seaweed floating offshore. The major hotels on these beaches include the all-inclusive Krystal Cancun and the Hyatt Ziva Cancun at the point of the peninsula.
Click here to check prices on Hyatt Ziva Cancun.
Best Cancun Beaches Without Seaweed – Playa Delfines / Dolphins Beach
This long, wide public beach at the southern end of the Hotel Zone is known as Playa Defines and is one of the most popular beaches in Cancun. You’ll also see line-ups of people waiting to get a photo-op in front of the CANCUN sign.
The amount of seaweed on Playa Delfines has decreased considerably over the past few months. See below for a photo of what it looked like a few months ago.
Cancun Seaweed – Sargassum Forecast 2019
The original sargassum forecast predicted that the quantity of seaweed in Cancun and Riviera-Maya would reach its peak in July and August 2018. It was then projected to disappear by December 2018.
So far, the Cancun seaweed situation seems to be following predictions and we should be able to expect it to continue to decrease and disappear completely by December 2018, bringing the beaches back to their beautiful natural state of turquoise waters and powder white sand by the peak holiday season.
If you’re planning a beach vacation in Cancun in November and early December, it’s good to know that the current conditions at the beaches in Cancun are excellent and there are no problems swimming in the water or walking on the beach. Updates in February from the Sargassum Early Advisory System (SEAS) forecasting project show no sargassum mats offshore.
But it’s important to note that conditions can change daily depending on tides and water temperature. To continue to monitor current seaweed conditions throughout the Caribbean, Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico, there are several options.
The forecast for seaweed season in 2019 is uncertain. A report by Brigitta Ine van Tussenbroek, an ocean researcher from the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology at the National Autonomous University (UNAM) suggests that large quantities of sargassum seaweed are likely to return to Quintana Roo and the beaches of Mexico’s Caribbean coast in 2019.
Recent satellite images show large floating masses of seaweed in the Atlantic between southern Africa and Brazil. Whether it will land in Cancun, Chetumal or the Riviera Maya is unclear as much depends upon atmospheric conditions such as trade winds.
In Akumal Mexico, it’s possible to check webcams such as the Akumal Beach Webcam to see live feeds of beach images that update every 10 seconds throughout the day.
In Cancun, Mexico you can check the Live Aqua Webcam to see live video frames updated every 15 seconds.
You can also check the Sargassum Early Advisory System (SEAS), a forecasting project based in Texas intended to help predict the movement of sargassum blooms. Originally created in 2013 to help with forecasting of the large Sargassum landings in Texas, by 2017 the SEAS project had expanded to provide forecasting for the Gulf Coast, Mexico, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Haiti, Saba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and many other Caribbean islands.
They also provide updates on their Facebook page and can forecast sargassum seaweed masses up to eight days in advance.
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It’s also worth checking on Instagram using the hashtag #sargassum or your destination and you can get updates such as the one below:
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