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

beach

(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 Milestones

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

Here are 10 of Nelson Mandela’s most inspirational quotes

Innovation can transform the way we solve the world’s water challenges

Can indoor farming feed the world?

Protection of workers from biological agents: how to classify COVID-19

UN investigates systematic sexual violence across South Sudan

Voice tech and the question of trust

Korea must enhance detection and reinforce sanctions to boost foreign bribery enforcement

All States have ‘primary responsibility’ to protect against hate attacks

Achieving a European Education Area by 2025 and resetting education and training for the digital age

UN rights chief says ‘bar must be set very high’ for investigation of murdered Saudi journalist

We dream of being a part of the European family, says FYROM PM

Execution of juvenile offender in Iran ‘deeply distressing’ – UN rights chief

More than 90 per cent of Africa migrants would make perilous Europe journey again, despite the risks

Faith can overcome religious nationalism. Here’s how

Diversity training doesn’t change people’s behaviour. We need to find out what does

From violence to dialogue: as land conflicts intensify, UN boosts efforts to resolve disputes through mediation

Embracing technology as a service will fuel the circular economy. Here’s how.

Europe’s far-right launches attacks on neighboring nations

EU Parliament and Council: Close to agreement on the bank resolution mechanism

Technology as an inclusion method while facing the COVID-19 pandemic: the “Coronavirus-SUS” app

Plastic waste from Western countries is poisoning Indonesia

‘Unconscionable’ to kill aid workers, civilians: UN Emergency Coordinator

Facebook has built an AI-based tool that fixes the social network when it crashes

CO2 emissions around the world

Coronavirus: Using European supercomputing, EU-funded research project announces promising results for potential treatment*

4 ways to keep the momentum rolling on mental health

How COVID-19 could open the door for driverless deliveries

The future of manufacturing is smart, secure and stable

EU Parliament: A catastrophic crisis management by European leaders

South Korea wants to build three hydrogen-powered cities by 2022

Gaps being closed- medical students uplifting women’s right

Microsoft says the internet is getting a little nicer

This Japanese concept will help you see the world – and learn – in a different way

Stage set for successful 2020 Burundi elections, Foreign Minister tells General Assembly

How digital identity can improve lives in a post-COVID-19 world

Will the European Court of Justice change data privacy laws to tackle terrorism?

Palestinian children’s education deeply impacted by ‘interference’ around West Bank schools, UN warns

‘InvestEU’ programme: big boost for jobs, growth and investment

A day in the life of a refugee: We should be someone who helps

EU and Japan select first Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Programmes

Can climate change action lead to better inclusion?

4 steps towards wiping out cervical cancer

EU car manufacturers worry about an FTA with Japan

Here’s how retailers can encourage more sustainable behaviour

Good grub: why we might be eating insects soon

Here are 5 reasons why the ocean is so important

‘Terminator’ warlord Bosco Ntaganda sentenced to 30 years in prison for DR Congo atrocities

5 ways to reduce risk while fuelling IT innovation and growth

Public opinion misled by the Commission on air transport safety

British PM May’s Brexit proposal remains obscure while her government unravels

Most ‘precious’ and ‘scarce’ resource of our time is dialogue, UN chief tells Doha policy forum

Mining the deep seabed will harm biodiversity. We need to talk about it

3 steps to boost your digital safety while working from home

How to have a good Fourth Industrial Revolution

UN honours fallen colleagues and friends who ‘risk all to promote peace’

The winds of change: 5 charts on the future of offshore power

Whose interests are protected by the new Mortgage Directive?

GSMA Announces Latest Event Updates for 2018 “Mobile World Congress Americas, in Partnership with CTIA”

Is the ECB enforcing the will of the big Eurozone member states on the small? Can the euro area live with that?

Colombia: ‘Significant strides’ towards integrated peace, UN envoy tells Security Council

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