For large swathes of the Mexican Caribbean, this has been the
summer of sargassum, but while the rust-colored seaweed has plagued the region's
beaches on and off for several years, resorts and destinations have recently
been finding ways to fight back.
This season's build-up has been particularly severe,
blighting beaches across the Riviera Maya and Cancun coastlines and forcing
many resorts to implement new solutions to tackle the outbreak.
"It's a naturally occurring phenomenon in the summer,
but it has increased over the last several years," said Kappner Clark,
chief marketing officer for resort owner RLH Properties. "We've realized
this is a part of life and a part of climate change."
RLH's portfolio includes the Mayakoba resort complex, which
is located just north of Playa del Carmen and comprises the Andaz Mayakoba,
Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Fairmont Mayakoba and Rosewood Mayakoba properties.
In mid-August, Mayakoba announced it would begin installing
a milelong barrier just off the development's coastline, designed to catch and
redirect the sargassum before it can wash ashore. According to Clark, the
barrier, which is anchored to the sand below and rises just above the water
line, is intended to be as unintrusive as possible.
"You don't just put up a barrier and call it a day,
though," Clark said. "Collection of the sargassum caught by the
barrier is done by boats. And if any does make it to the beach, we have a team
of people who collect it, or we also have a tractor-style machine designed to
pick up the seaweed, as well."
Once sargassum is collected at Mayakoba, it's drained, then
sent to special mills for crushing. Subsequently, the sargassum waste is
delivered to extraction plants and turned into compounds such as alginate and
fucoidan, which are used by the pharmaceutical and textile industries, or the
stuff is converted into biofertilizer.
Like Mayakoba, other resorts have focused their remediation
efforts on barrier-collection methods. Among them is the Desire Riviera Maya
Resort in Puerto Morelos, which invested $96,000 in a 918-foot barrier that,
according to Alessio Giribaldi, general manager of Desire Resorts, has "provided
guests a sargassum-free beach" since its April installation.
AMResorts' Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita has opted for a
similar method, installing a $120,000 seaweed barrier to protect its 1,900-foot
stretch of beach.
Alternatively, Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts has
developed a barrier-free response plan that uses only a network of boats to
collect sargassum at its Riviera Maya properties. The brand has reported a 95%
reduction in seaweed across its impacted resorts.
These private sector efforts have been backed by federal,
state and municipal responses, as well. In destinations like Tulum, for
example, Mexican naval ships have been deployed to collect sargassum before it
reaches the coast, and in late June, an international summit was held in Cancun
to address the issue on a global scale, with representatives from a dozen
countries in attendance.
Catching and disposing of the sargassum, however, is only
half the battle for Mexican Caribbean resorts. Misconceptions about the seaweed
are widespread, and once a beach is cleared or the sargassum in a given area
begins to wane, it can be challenging to communicate these updates to travelers
and the trade alike.
Erica Doyne, senior vice president of marketing for
AMResorts, said that providing travelers with updates on naturally occurring
sargassum is "a top priority." She added that many travelers aren't
aware of the fact that sargassum is a seasonal occurrence, more common from
April to October, and that volume can vary significantly day to day.
"We want potential travelers to be educated on the
issue and, in turn, feel confident in the decision to book a trip to specific
destinations and resorts," Doyne said.
To further bolster consumer confidence, AMResorts'
adults-only Secrets Aura Cozumel and its family-friendly Sunscape Sabor
Cozumel, like many other properties in the region, have installed webcams that
offer live footage of their beaches.
Mayakoba, meanwhile, has leaned heavily on its robust social
media presence to help spread sargassum-related news, posting video updates of
its beaches across its various Instagram channels.
president of the nonprofit organization YesToMexico, said the destinations have
also become more savvy at communicating about the issue with visitors.
"I think the tourism boards and resorts have definitely
had to become more proactive in how to address things from a communication
standpoint," Brussow said. "And it's important, because a lot of
people think [the sargassum] is a Mexico-wide problem. But it doesn't, in fact,
affect, for example, the west coast destinations like Los Cabos in the same way
it does other areas."
YesToMexico, which was established by a group of travel
trade professionals late last year, states as its primary goal to provide "more
fact-based and balanced communication regarding travel to Mexico" as well
as to offer educational resources to both consumers and travel advisors.
The group has addressed the seaweed issue with a "Fast
Facts Sargassum Guide," available on its website.
Brussow also lauded the efforts made by the Quintana Roo
Tourism Board, which has been offering biweekly updates on the sargassum
situation via email.
In a late August Quintana Roo update, the tourism board said
that "more than 83% of the beaches frequented by tourists in the Mexican
Caribbean are sargassum-free or have only trace amounts of seaweed" and
that the overall sargassum volume in the region is decreasing daily.
"We want people to be accessing these resources so that
they're making decisions based on facts, not based on what they heard from
their neighbor or what they might have seen on a TV news report," Brussow