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Sargassum, the toxic algae that threatens the Gulf of Mexico

Sargassum, the toxic algae that threatens the Gulf of Mexico

Brown, fetid and toxic, this toxic algae has besieged the most idyllic beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and has endangered not only tourism, but indigenous ecosystems. The key to ending their invasion is to combat climate change.

The paradisiacal beaches of white sand and turquoise water of the Caribbean have lost their original color. It is also part of the attraction that for years has seduced millions of tourists from all over the world. Blame it on the sargassum, a reddish seaweed that has invaded the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, and which is a direct consequence of both pollution and climate change.

Colloquially known as "the weed of deception", this alga appeared suddenly (and massively) in 2011 on the beaches of the Mexican Caribbean. Since then, it has been concentrating in large quantities on the coasts of Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen, giving off a nauseating smell that scares tourists and hinders the work of fishermen. And it is that sargassum, in addition to being unpleasant for the sight and smell, is also dangerous for human health and indigenous ecosystems: rotting releases acid, arsenic and other substances that are toxic to the skin and that have already caused, according to various local media, the death of a large number of turtles, octopuses and fish.

Scientists attribute their proliferation to climate change and pollution

"It is an ecological problem, not a tourist one," as warned from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), which in recent years has focused on researching this algae. In addition to leading to economic ruin wherever it moors, sargassum is, above all, an environmental threat that has already reached Spanish shores. Just a few days ago, the Cádiz beach of Lances, in Tarifa, was dressed in this brown tide. Its presence in such disparate parts of the globe leads one to wonder: where does it come from? And more importantly, what has caused its appearance?

Although there are various assumptions about its origin, it is usually associated with the sea that receives its name, the Sargasso Sea, a region of the Atlantic Ocean abundant in algae and plakton. However, its presence has also been recorded in the tropical waters of Africa. Its proliferation could be due, according to a group of researchers from Florida Atlantic University, to the excessive amount of polluting nutrients generated by human activity that are dumped into the sea and that end up fertilizing these plants. And they don't exactly grow slowly. Quite the contrary: it is estimated that in 20 days they double their biomass if the conditions are right. It is precisely in the generation of these conditions that the climate change variable appears.

Sargassum has a rapid proliferation: in just 20 days, it can double its biomass

According to data provided by NASA, one of the main direct consequences of climate change is the increase in planetary temperatures, which not only causes the melting of the poles, but also warms the water and causes changes in the ocean currents. For experts, this would be one of the reasons that has caused the arrival of these plants to the Caribbean coasts, leaving some images that have raised the alarm internationally.

“Seeing sargassum and its impact on people only confirms the urgency to act against climate change and find sustainable solutions to keep our oceans healthy. The oceans have no borders, just like the climate. It is a collective responsibility to act now ”, warned last July the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, during his visit to the island of Saint Lucia on the occasion of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (Caricom). Although barriers have been put up on some beaches and Withdrawal campaigns have been organized in various parts of the Gulf of Mexico (This year about 57,603 tonnes have been collected), the solution to end the plague of algae that drowns the most idyllic beaches on the planet is to eradicate the problem from the source: climate change.

Collaboration by Jara Atienza, Ethic

Video: Massive waves of toxic seaweed inundate Yucatan Peninsula beaches (October 2020).