Like climate change, they destroyed the beach of Tulum, a UNESCO heritage site


Five years have passed since I swam in what can only be described as the most beautiful beach in the world.

Framed by ancient ruins, cenotes and an infestation of friendly iguanas, the coast of Tulum was a clash of bright colors. An ancient walled city that descends into the white sands below. A swell of green and blue that laps the shoreline while vacationers take shelter from the harsh sun under brightly colored umbrellas.

It was an Instagrammer dream, a natural wonder and a place on the height of every part of my desktop background.

So when my friend told me about her next trip to the Mexican Mayan Riviera, a visit to the world famous archaeological site of Tulum was at the top of my list of "things to do".

However, after three weeks of licking the Caribbean sun and documenting every cocktail and taco he consumed on Instagram, the beauty of Tulum failed to be mentioned.

"How the hell was Tulum," I asked when she came home. "Are you just dead ?!"

"Friend, it was disgusting," he replied. "It smelled like rotten eggs. I'll send you a picture. "

The phone buzzed in my hand, I put it in speakerphone and I opened the attachment of the text message. Shock. Horror.

A wet swirl of brown water lapped an almost empty beach. A single bather sat alone, with headphones inside and in front of the breaking waves.

In the five years since my visit, the most famous and profitable coast of Mexico has kidnapped an unwelcome visitor.

A decaying algae infestation has moved to northern Brazil, settling in the increasingly warm waters of the Caribbean.

Thousands of things, known as sargassums, have transformed the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico into what looks like a cesspool.

Smelling of rotten eggs, the grass has covered the white sands from Tulum along the coast to Cancun.

Browse through a brochure or even jump to the official tourism website and you have no idea how much this alga has saved the region.

The tragedy, which has devastated the region for the past four years, has cost more than $ 17 million to try to eliminate 500,000 tons of grass from Tulum's beaches.

The white sand that winds along the coast of the Riviera Maya provides half of the country's tourism revenue, without a lot of money or labor to stop the growing devastation.

The resorts are desperately trying to remove the patches of sand for dependent guests who demolish, shovel and rake the beaches day and night and install nets in the water to catch the grass while floating on the shore.

But the expensive exercise is proving futile, with experts claiming that the grass infestation will only get worse with time.

In an interview with the IndependentChuanmin Hu, professor of oceanography at the College of Marine Science of South Florida University, said that "global climate change … an increase in the deposition of air or a greater source of nutrients from rivers" may have increased the recent large quantities of sargassums that destroy the region.

However, the exact cause is still under discussion.

Some scientists have cited climate change and its impact on rainfall and ocean circulation. Others believe that an increase in deforestation and fertilizers used in the Brazilian Amazon, which flows into the ocean, has accelerated the growth of algae.

"The chemistry of the ocean must be changed in order for the blooms to get out of hand," added Dr. Hu.

The tourism industry is in a panic, fearing that the continued growth of the grass could severely affect the local industry when hotel occupancy rates start to fall.

In June, the state declared an emergency on the problem, describing it as an "imminent natural disaster".

With tourism being the backbone of the region's economy, which employs about four million, resorts are pushing room discounts and other incentives to try to bring travelers' dollar back to the famous beaches.

According to Bloomberg, this year the grass gave the biggest blow of all.

The hotel occupation in the region has decreased by 3.4% in the first three weeks of June, with other locations offering discounts on rooms up to 20% and transporting guests to uninterested beaches during the high season.

Air traffic to Cancun, the largest airport in the region to access the Riviera Maya, has registered its weakest growth for the month since 2011.

Local people, desperate for a solution, wrote in the local media, asking government officials for help to solve the stinky smell that floods the coast.

"Most of the months of the year our beaches have lost the crystalline color of their waters and their shades of blue and turquoise green; the marine grass and the fish die because of the lack of light and oxygen, even the turtles and the coral reef are affected, "reads a letter, according to Turquesa News.

"It produces an acid gas with an odor of rotten egg [when it decomposes] which can be harmful to human health."

But despite the money being invested in bandaid solutions, their reasons are falling by the wayside.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has repeatedly downplayed the invasion of algae, saying instead that the problem is "controllable".

But according to a group of guard dogs, the worst is yet to come.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Susana Enríquez, an expert on coral reef systems at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Puerto Morelos, said a floating seaweed island the size of Jamaica is swinging just offshore.

"I've never seen sargassum arrivals in such huge quantities," he said.

"His ability to destroy already vulnerable ecosystems is profound. It is much more than just a beach problem, "he added, adding that sargassum can damage ecosystems such as coral reefs by blocking vital sunlight, decomposition and depletion of oxygen water.

The herb also has possible health implications for humans too, with research showing that sargassum is rich in heavy metals, such as lead and arsenic, which means that disposal it's a big problem.

A landfill where the sargassum is taken is in the jungle, many miles away from the ocean. But it is not clear whether the decomposing mass then penetrates the soil or evaporates in the air.

Jose Escalante, who owned a small hotel in Tulum for eight years, says this is not just a local problem, but a sign of how the world is going.

"It's something that's happening to the world, not just to the region" he said in an interview with CBS.

"This is only a consequence of the entire planet in difficulty."



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