A 550 km-long mass of rotting seaweed is heading for Mexico’s pristine beaches


(Sean O., Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Sean Fleming, Senior Writer, Formative Content

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is home to clear blue seas, golden sands and a glorious backdrop that includes ancient Mayan ruins. Millions flock to its resorts every year and tourism is vital to the area’s economy.

But now much of the coast is covered in heaps of rotting seaweed, contributing to an economic and ecological crisis.

Image: Science

The issue has been caused by an enormous bloom of sargassum algae, which washed ashore from the nearby Sargasso Sea. There has long been sargassum in that part of the ocean. But the rate of its growth has increased rapidly in recent years – so much so that in 2018 its summer bloom almost spanned the Atlantic from West Africa to the Caribbean.

And things are set to get even worse.

The roots of the problem

At around 550 kilometres in length, another mass of sargassum algae is heading towards the Mexican coast. It’s roughly the same size as the island of Jamaica, and when it arrives it could stretch all the way south along the Yucatan Peninsula to Belize.

One of the core causes is deforestation. In addition to contributing to global warming, it also causes soil erosion, which in turn, leads to surplus nutrients being washed into rivers and flowing into the ocean.

Rising nutrient and nitrogen levels have several effects on the seawater. One is to limit the amount of oxygen in the water, creating dead zones, according to the US National Ocean Service. The other is to promote the growth of seaweed and algal blooms – like the Sargasso seaweed that is now swamping Mexican beaches.

Cross-continental causes

Several thousand kilometres to the south of the Yucatan lies the Amazon rainforest, around 17% of which has been lost to deforestation over the past 50 years. Meanwhile, the US Geological Survey points to a worsening situation in West Africa, where more than 80% of the Upper Guinean Forest was lost in the first 75 years of the 20th century and continues to face deforestation.


The huge sargassum algae islands that form out at sea are living entities. They also provide shelter for myriad tiny marine organisms. But once they wash ashore, the algae dies and starts to decompose. Toxic gases are then released into the air, while acid and heavy metals are left behind to make their way into the sea, altering the water’s acidity levels and further depleting oxygen.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the oceans?

Our oceans cover 70% of the world’s surface and account for 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. We can’t have a healthy future without healthy oceans – but they’re more vulnerable than ever because of climate change and pollution.

Tackling the grave threats to our oceans means working with leaders across sectors, from business to government to academia.

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute, convenes the Friends of Ocean Action, a coalition of leaders working together to protect the seas. From a programme with the Indonesian government to cut plastic waste entering the sea to a global plan to track illegal fishing, the Friends are pushing for new solutions.

Climate change is an inextricable part of the threat to our oceans, with rising temperatures and acidification disrupting fragile ecosystems. The Forum runs a number of initiatives to support the shift to a low-carbon economy, including hosting the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, who have cut emissions in their companies by 9%.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

The economic fallout

It’s a bleak picture. Beaches ruined by deposits of foul-smelling, rotting seaweed are bad for tourism.

And the effect of the chemicals leaching first into the ground and then into the sea is to poison the offshore waters, resulting in a loss of marine life. It is also contributing to so-called white syndrome, which kills coral tissue.

Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, estimates the cost of cleaning up the beaches to be around $2.7 million.

But the impact on tourism, which contributes 8.7% to Mexico’s gross domestic product and is worth around $23 billion annually, will be far greater. The government estimates a drop of 30% in some affected areas.










the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

This US city put an algorithm in charge of its school bus routes and saved $5 million

Contact the Sting

Norway is known for its cold weather – but it’s been in the grip of a severe heatwave

China is now heavily endorsing its big investment flow in the Central Eastern European (CEE) countries

Draghi’s top new year resolution: Quantitative Easing

Adriatic Sea: MEPs adopt multiannual plan for fisheries

Deep science: what it is, and how it will shape our future

Trade Committee MEPs give greenlight to landmark EU-Japan trade agreement

The New Year 2016 will not be benevolent to Europe

Prevent future crises and empower youth – now!

COP21 Breaking News_05 December: Ban Ki-Moon Closing Address at COP21 Action Day Innovation, Imagination, Faster Climate Action

Draghi reserved about Eurozone’s growth prospects

European Commission welcomes the positive assessment about how it has managed the EU budget

MWC 2016 LIVE: Stripe gives payments leg-up to startups in emerging markets

Moscow’s Eurasian Union lost significance after the crisis in Ukraine

Syria: WHO appeals for funding to sustain critical health care for millions trapped by conflict

Thai cave boys spared thundershowers, highlighting extreme climate disruption: UN weather agency

This afternoon Britain will be once more isolated from mainland Europe

Gynecologic care in the 21st century

Eurozone plans return to growth

Sahel States need international support ‘now more than ever’– UN peacekeeping chief

Parliament sets up plan to fight the 3,600 criminal rings of EU

Digital Single Market: Survey shows Europeans are well aware of rules against unjustified geo-blocking

Top UN official urges Russia and Ukraine to step away from further confrontation at sea

More bank bailouts at taxpayers’ expenses

Why your next car is a bike

The Parliament accuses core EU countries of exploiting their dominant political position

ECB: Growth measures even before the German elections

Who is to pay the dearest price in a global slowdown?

Activist Greta Thunberg gets preview of UNHQ ahead of climate summit

IMF: Sorry Greece it was a mistake of 11% of your GDP

7 ways for businesses to capture the youth dividend

EU migration crisis again accentuates lack of unity and solidarity among member states

Why do medical students need to emigrate to become doctors in 2017?

Iraq needs support to ‘leave violent past behind’, says UN envoy as Security Council extends UN mission for one year

MEPs approve boost to workers’ rights in the gig economy

World Population Day: ‘A matter of human rights’ says UN

Europe to turn the Hamburg G20 Summit into a battlefield

Unemployment and immigrants haunt the EU; who can offer relief?

EU-China trade: closer ties as US-China trade battle brews

Protectionism doesn’t stand a chance in the age of connectivity

Syrian Government’s ‘different understanding’ of UN role, a ‘very serious challenge’ – Special Envoy

This is what the world’s CEOs really think of AI

The Dead Sea is drying up, and these two countries have a plan to save it

Chart of the day: These countries have the largest carbon footprints

Is your business model fit for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Some progress made towards security in Mali, but still a long way to go, Security Council hears

How two colossal Assyrian icons were recreated using digital tech

EU: Huge surplus in the trade of services with the rest of the world

The power of trust and values in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

UN Security Council hails ‘courage’ of Afghan voters

Theresa May’s global Britain against Philip Hammond’s Brexit fog

Guinea-Bissau spotlights threats of organized crime, Sahel terrorism in speech to UN Assembly

ECB money bonanza not enough to revive euro area, Germany longs to rule with stagnation

Anti-vaxxers are hurting vaccination campaigns. We need to fight back

Ensure that widows are ‘not left out or left behind’, UN chief urges on International Day

Gaza: deadly violence continues to escalate, top UN officials work to restore calm

For the future of Europe youth remains a priority

Fighting forest fires in Europe – how it works

Here’s how we solve the global crisis of tribalism and democratic decay

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s