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Vacationers visit Mexican coastal towns like Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum in search of sun, white sands and clear blue waters. But, recently, they have also experienced something unexpected: sargassum.
Now, this seaweed is invading an area of Mexico’s Caribbean coast called the Riviera Maya. It is amassing along beaches and turning the beautiful waters brown. Experts warn that this may be the new normal.
Half of Mexico’s tourism profits come from the Riviera Maya. Very little sargassum reached it before 2014. But experts say a possible combination of climate change, pollution from fertilizers and changes in ocean currents has caused the problem to worsen.
The government of Quintana Roo, a state in Mexico, says the sargassum invasion is one of the biggest issues “that climate change has caused for the world.” It said solving the problem will require a joint effort by many countries.
Jef A. Gardner travels often to Playa del Carmen from Knoxville, Tennessee. He told the Associated Press he thinks the sargassum problem is a disaster that will badly hurt tourism and the local economy.
This year, the sargassum along parts of Mexico’s coast appears worse than it was last year. And the increased growth is not just a problem for Mexico. It affects almost all countries along the Caribbean Sea on some level.
Chuanmin Hu is a professor of oceanography at South Florida University’s College of Marine Science. He says the sargassum seems to be the result of increased nutrient flows from rivers and ocean water upwelling.
Hu says this process is unlikely to soon stop. He says more research is needed before definitely linking it all to human activity. But, he pointed to evidence of “increased use of fertilizer and increased deforestation” as possible causes, at least for the Amazon.
Other ideas for solutions are appearing, such as using it as an additive to make bricks. But its usefulness as a fertilizer or animal feed is limited by the chemicals it contains, like salt, iodine and arsenic.
In Quintana Roo, tourism industry workers make up almost all of the local population. Some are concerned about a federal government plan to establish a train line between coastal areas and Mayan ruins. They say the government is ignoring the seaweed problem.
I’m Susan Shand.
And I’m Alice Bryant.
Mark Stevenson wrote this story for The Associated Press. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
fertilizer – n. a substance (such as manure or a special chemical) that is added to soil to help the growth of plants
coral – n. an invertebrate sea animal that forms reefs
brick – n. a small, hard block of baked materials that is used to build structures and sometimes to make streets or paths
ruins – n. the remaining pieces of something that was destroyed, especially from ancient civilizations