Seaweed Blues?

Sometimes it’s best to expect the unexpected when vacationing in the Riviera Maya.

The “unexpected” can include sargasso, a gulfweed that can pile up on the shore. It sometimes has a strong and pungent odor. Sargasso doesn’t have to ruin your beach plans. You just have to know what it is and how to navigate it.

At Loco Gringo, we want to help you make the best of your vacation in the Riviera Maya, whatever the unexpected brings. That’s why we have compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions about sargasso.

Q: How is it pronounced — sargasso, sargassos or sargassum?

A: There are several types of sargassos, sargasso is the singular form and sargassum is the genus.

Q: What is sargasso?

A: Sargasso or gulfweed is a brown algae. It has been referenced since 1492 when Christopher Columbus first crossed the “Sargasso Sea” on his way to America. 

Q: From where does sargasso come?

A: There are several theories about the origin of the sargasso appearing on the Caribbean coastlines. One argument is that patches of the Sargasso Sea broke away and washed up on the shore. Other theories hypothesize that currents from Brazil or Africa are dragging it to the Caribbean.

Q: Why does it happen?

A: Currently, four fundamental theories are being explored to explain why there are excessive amounts of sargasso impacting our beaches today.

  1. Global Warming has shifted the currents that maintain the Sargasso Sea, just north of the Bahamas, and these currents are now moving toward the south, much closer to land.
  2. Despite the 2017 hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico and surrounding islands, there hasn’t been enough hurricane activity in the area to provide the stability that the Sargasso Sea’s ecosystem needs. As a result, the algae flourish, and pieces of the Sargasso Sea break away due to stress created by climate change.
  3. The vast deforestation along the coast of Brazil is causing large amounts of organic waste to be deposited in the ocean. This organic waste is filled with nutrients that feed and aid algae growth.
  4. Sand from African beaches is rich in nutrients, especially potassium, which then nourishes the gulfweed as it blooms and accumulates.

Q: When does it come on shore?

A: Sargasso always shows up on shore though you might not notice it. Most rental properties clean the sargasso before you hit the beach. Sometimes there is hardly any sargasso seaweed, sometimes there’s more, but it is always there. Currents seem to bring more sargasso when the water temperature rises. However, just like rain, this can be entirely unpredictable. 

Q: On what beaches does sargasso appear?

A: Sargasso or gulfweed washes up on the shores of the southern USA and all the of the Caribbean. The beaches most commonly affected are Texas, south Florida, Mexico, Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Brazil and even across the Atlantic in Portugal, Spain, the British Isles, and Morocco.

Q: How can I get rid of the smell?

A: Copal. You can stop any convenience store to find copal or a fragrant incense to disguise the smell of sargasso during your stay. Plus, copal also an excellent and natural mosquito repellant that has been used by locals for generations.

Q: Is sargasso harmful?

A: Most people do not react to sargasso itself. That said when it does start to decompose it will expel a powerful, pungent smell. The scent attracts sand flies and bugs which can cause nasty bites.  Should you suffer from extremely sensitive skin or any preexisting skin condition, stop by the nearest dive shop for a neoprene wetsuit or ask a medical physician.

Q: What are rental properties doing to control sargasso?

A: Most properties along the coast clean the sargasso seaweed that washes on the shore. Caretakers rise early in the morning to do this before most guests are awake. Larger cities have access to more people and can hire more labor when needed. Sometimes more than one metric ton washes up ashore, making it a herculean feat for a single person or two to clean everything.

Q: Why does it seem like there are more social media posts about sargasso in the Riviera Maya than other destinations?

A: Algorithms and numbers. Your social media feeds show information about areas that are of the most interest to you. For example, if you searched and were interested in seeing information about visiting, skiing, or hiking in North America, you would see more posts in your social media feeds about the devastation the bark beetle is causing across the northern U.S. and Canada.

Also, the Riviera Maya is the ultimate beach getaway, with more visitors from all over the world than any other Caribbean destination. Its infrastructure and extensive wifi coverage enable more people with more smartphones to provide live coverage of their adventures here. So, while your friends may have posted about the sargasso during their week at the beach, odds are the sargasso has cleared up within a week or two or even overnight.

Q: Should I forget about going to the beach if I see friends post about sargasso in Riviera Maya?

A: Just like rain, sargasso is an unpredictable, natural phenomenon. One morning the entire coast can find sargasso piled high and within a couple of days the currents will change and wash it away.

Q: Can I cancel my trip and demand a refund if there is sargasso on the beach?

A: Sargasso, like hurricanes, is considered an “act of God.” Rental properties have varying policies regarding cancellations in such cases. Some rental properties have a “no refund” policy while others will often extend a credit to rebook your trip at a later date. 

Consider purchasing travel insurance if you believe sargasso will completely ruin your ability to enjoy your trip. Loco Gringo always recommends travel insurance as the best way to protect your investment should you need to cancel your trip before your arrival.

Q: Is my vacation doomed if sargasso washes ashore during my stay?

A: The short answer is it’s up to you. The Riviera Maya offers a myriad of ways to play in Mexico. The coast is one of the most important tourist destinations for travelers from around the world. Tourism is a critical part of the region’s economy. Therefore, locals have ingeniously created a variety of options to enjoy the beach regardless of the sargasso levels.

Don’t have a trip planned yet? Then contact us so we can get you vacation countdown started with us.

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