CN 2018Oct15 Riviera Maya Update BWB

Sargassum at Vidanta Riviera Maya

October 15, 2018

We received wonderful photos of an issue that has plagued beaches all over the Caribbean - the abundent SARGASSUM that has accumulated on the Luxxe beaches and other beaches. The build up this year is higher than average and might be caused by winds and currents, nutrients contained in rain runoff and maybe global warming, but the latter is less because according to the article that appears below, changes in temperature do not necessarily increase the growth of Sargassum.

Following are updated comments and photos:
August 16, 2018

Hi Bob and Mary Ann,

We were at the GL RM from 9 July to 23 July and we watched the Sargazo (Bladderwrack) inundate the shoreline while we were there. We have been swimming and snorkeling in the ocean and reef there since 2003 and have never seen anything like this. There is no good snorkeling now in the reef at the resort. The amount of Sargazo, reddish seaweed is greater than we have ever seen in almost 20 years of visiting the Riviera Maya. The warming ocean is said to be the main reason for the increase in Sargazo. The Vidanta beach improvements have caused the Sargazo to be trapped at the North sides of the three piers, instead of drifting on down the coast line. There is a predominant North to South flow of the ocean currents at the shoreline and the piers restrict this flow. This is good for trapping sand for the beach, but bad for Sargazo. The trapped and stagnant seaweed extended out past the Grand Luxxe beach pier and was about two feet thick at the surface of the ocean. The rotting smell of it was getting pretty bad near the end of our 2 weeks in our favorite palapa on the beach. The staff also said that because of the turtle nesting season, they could not drive their tractors on the beach to rake it up. Around the corner of the shoreline to the North, at the Valentine Resort, there was a fraction as much Sargazo collected on the beach. The beach staff and tractors there could keep up with the Sargazo daily and keep their beach clean. Immediately North of the Valentine Resort at the Playa del Secreto, there was hardly any Sargazo on the beach and they did not do anything to clean their beach of Sargazo there. It looks like the beach improvements that Vidanta made to give us a nicer place to swim and play in the ocean have also provided us with unintended side effects. I included a couple of photos to show this red muck in the ocean. We are returning to the GLRM at the end of August and I will pass on an update of the shoreline and Sargazo status. We had to hold our noses...

September 3, 2018

Hola Bob,

We are at the Grand Luxxe Riviera Maya once again. The Sargaso is building up on the Grand Luxxe beach shore and is about 4 to 5 feet high now. The stink of it rotting is nearly overpowering near the shore. When the wind blows straight onto the shore, like yesterday and today, you can smell it when you go out on the Grand Luxxe room patio a quarter mile from the ocean. The resort staff is working to keep the sargaso raked up daily from the Mayan Palace beach and in front of the new Beach Club, but they have abandoned their efforts to clean the Grand Luxxe beach for now. No one knows then they will start cleaning again. Next door at the Valentine Resort, they keep their beach clean by raking the sargaso into piles and picking it up with a special sand rake tractor. Also, here at the Vidanta resort, the turtle nest this year has about 20% of the number of turtles it had last year. Speculation is that the sargaso piled on the shore and floating in the ocean is keeping the turtles from laying their eggs in the sand. Also, for months, the beach crews were digging holes and burying the surgaso in the sand as they raked it up from the shore. The turtles may not like to dig into seaweed buried in the sand when they go to lay their eggs. Next door at the Valentine resort, they have their normal number of turtle eggs in their turtle nest area, many times more than here.

Another topic for your info, the resort was nearly empty last week and still is this week. The occupancy overall is around 35% (or less) and is expected to stay that way through September. Where there is about a 500 person capacity in the 4 Grand Luxxe buildings, there are only about 160 here now. The Luxxe Jungle is closed now also. This is very unusual here. We have never seen it this empty in 15 years. Many of the restaurants are closed and those open are operating at reduced hours with reduced staff. Over half of the Grand Luxxe concierge staff has been placed on unpaid leave. Where they normally have over 40 concierge here at the GL, there are only about 20 working here now. The Chief Concierge is off for two weeks now on unexpected vacation. Before she left, she did have her room controller schedule us into our number one favorite rooms for our two week stay. Occupancy is expected to pick back up in October.

A month ago when we were here, occupancy was 95% at the resort.

Is this occupancy slump happening at the Vidanta resort in Nuevo Vallarta also?

We like this quieter time with fewer people. For the last week, we often had the Grand Luxxe beach all to ourselves. It is like the (good) old days before the Grand Luxxe was build when we were Grand Mayan members and the resort had far fewer people visiting. We may make September one of our regular visits in the future.

Also, the Cirque du Sole is closed for two weeks.

I heard last time we were here that you and Mary Ann were planning a trip to the GL Riviera Maya. I hope they clean the beach before you arrive.

Thank you for your update. Terrific insight to the state of the beaches now.

What is Sargassum? A form of seaweed. And there is a lot of it. And did you know that "Sargassum reproduction is asexual, which means that every bit of the same species could probably be traced back to its original ancestor; therefore, some consider it the largest organism in the world!" Also, some scientists feel there is less of it now than before. It largely hangs out in the Sargassum Sea, which is a borderless sea in the Atlantic.

We took the liberty to look into Sargassum and found the following from a knowledgeable dive site. Here is a recent article that appeared on akumaldiveshop.com:

Posted August 18 at 14:36h in Uncategorized byakumaldi
6 Comments, 21 Likes

“The open sea is like a desert, and sargassum is an oasis in that desert” — Blair Witherington, Research Scientist

Have you seen this on the beach lately?

Sargassum has been washing ashore on Caribbean beaches, in massive amounts, since last summer – although reports of unprecedented levels of this phenomenon have been documented since 2011 on the shoreline of the Riviera Maya

What is it?
It’s called Sargassum, brown algae (seaweed), a term coined by Portuguese sailors—which has even been attributed to Christopher Columbus (1492 expedition: first time someone reported crossing the Sargasso Sea). Today, many, many, species of Sargassum have been identified; however, Sargassum natans and Sargassum fluitans are the most relevant to us.

Small gas-filled spheres resembling berries, which keep the seaweed afloat, evoked memories of a type of grape known as salgazo (later sargaço).
Small gas-filled spheres resembling berries, which keep the seaweed afloat, evoked memories of a type of grape known as salgazo (later sargaço).

At first glance, beach-lovers might view it as nothing more than a foul-smelling annoyance (and sure, you may want to keep your distance once it starts to decompose); however, do remember that the once floating mats were home to (and source of food for) a huge variety of sea life. In fact, several creatures, like the Sargassum fish (a type of frogfish), are born, reproduce, and die solely within this environment!

Sargassum is a prime nursery habitat for a diversity of large fish, such as mahi mahi (a.k.a. dorado, dolphin), sailfish, jacks, amberjacks, etc.

Where did it come from?
Local experts think this particular bout of Sargassum originated off the coast of South America. When ocean conditions are ripe, pelagic (i.e., living in the open ocean) sargassum can form “islands” a few acres across (3-5 ft. deep). Sargassum can survive a wide range of temperature and salinity; therefore, you’ll find it floating in every ocean except the Antarctic… and (pardon a pun) currently on our shores, plenty of it!

On the other hand, within the Sargasso Sea (a sea full of sargassum, as the name suggests, about 10 million tons of it!) – a vast region in the Atlantic that almost rivals Australia in size – a few scientists have actually been reporting less of it.

Did you know? Sargassum is edible, it’s harvested to feed livestock too, and you can fry, boil, steam or dry it. It’s played a part in Chinese medicine as far back as the 8th century, treating goiters (high iodine content) — and made into tea to control phlegm.

Why so much?
No clear answer! Sargassum reproduction is asexual, which means that every bit of the same species could probably be traced back to its original ancestor; therefore, some consider it the largest organism in the world! Due to totipotency (a cell’s ability to give rise to unlike cells and develop a new organism), when a part breaks away, it’s not the end of it; the fragment drifts and could seemingly reproduce forever. Nonetheless, Sargassum eventually becomes too heavy, less buoyant, and sinks into the deep sea… or goes coastal!

The best educated guesses so far:

• Global warming: it’s a tropical plant; therefore, warmer oceans = more ocean to “bloom”. Nonetheless, temperature alone is not enough to make it thrive.

• Pollution: nutrient-rich waters act as fertilizer for the seaweed (it was thought that they were reproducing locally as a result of more nutrients).

• Disturbance in liquid boundaries: winds, storms, and spiraling currents help disperse Sargassum throughout the world’s oceans.

What is the Sargasso Sea?

“The Sargasso Sea exists in a sort of non-existence—it is both sea, and non-sea. It is a mysterious microcosm (…) so different from any other place on earth that it may well be considered a definite geographic region” — Rachel Carson, Author, Marine Biologist, and Conservationist

The Sargasso Sea, which exists exclusively in the Atlantic Ocean (specifically, in the North Atlantic Gyre), spreads 1,107 km wide and 3,200 km long – approx. 2 million square miles (Mexico is merely 761,610 sq mi). The only sea without fixed land boundaries, its limits are formed by dynamic ocean currents. Several kinds of algae float across oceans worldwide; however, the species of sargassum found here are ‘holopelagi‘ – meaning they float and reproduce at high seas (not on the ocean floor).

“Diving under sargassum is like diving in another world (…) If you can’t get out on a reef, it’s just as good.” — Billy Causey, Southeast Regional Director for NOAA’s Office of Marine Sanctuaries

One distinguishing feature of the Sargasso Sea, apart from ‘The golden floating rainforest’ appearance, is its remarkably clear blue water – divers would be greeted by 200 ft. (61 m) visibility!

The Sargassum ecosystem.
The Sargassum ecosystem.

Do ‘ocean’ and ‘sea’ mean the same thing? A sea belongs to the ocean; seas are normally found where land and ocean meet.

  • Sargassum provides a food source, home, and shelter to an amazing variety of marine species (plant, shrimp, crab, bird, fish, turtle and whale).
  • Turtles use sargassum mats as nurseries. Five species of sea turtles that pass through the Atlantic have been recorded there, and for at least three of these species, the loggerhead (Caretta caretta), green turtle (Chelonia mydas), and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), the Sargasso Sea is vitally important.
  • Invites pretty much every species of big-game fish that fishermen dream about catching.
  • On shore, it’s a source of food for crabs, insects, and a myriad of tiny creatures, which in turn feed shorebirds and other coastal animals.
  • Important for collecting wind-blown sand (anchoring it to create dunes) and encouraging plant growth (due to the nutrients it contributes); long-term, restoring eroded beaches and, short-term, helping reduce wave and wind erosion on the beach!
  • Potential in the medical and pharmaceutical fields.
  • Serves as biofuel and land fill.
  • At times, unsightly (especially when accompanied by man-made marine debris).
  • Unpleasant smell, once it begins to decay.
  • Collects floating garbage that may pose a health or environmental risk.
  • Too much Sargassum can make it complicated for nesting sea turtles to arrive at shore; and for hatchlings to reach the ocean. Also, it’s more difficult to monitor turtle tracks.
  • It can adversely affect tourism.
  • Invasive species (e.g., Lionfish) can hitch a ride.
  • Decomposing in water, it can promote blooms of harmful bacteria / microbes; resulting in serious skin irritation.
  • When removed from the beach, heavy machinery tends to compact the sand (this can affect turtles nesting, e.g.) and remove both sand and nutrients from the shore, which can lead to beach erosion.
What can be done about it?
Hoteliers and local authorities have been coordinating to remove sargassum from our beaches, either manually, in wheelbarrows, or using different types of heavy machinery. Removing it remains necessary; nonetheless, as this cannot be done without unintended consequences that lead to beach erosion (e.g., removing sargassum removes sand, heavy machinery compacts sand, etc.), making informed decisions about how to manage excess sargassum is equally important – particularly because there is so much we have yet to understand.

By Gabriel Saucedo

Sources and further reading:

http://www. eattheweeds.com/sargassum-not-just-for-breakfast-any-more-2/
http:// arlohemphill.com/2011/08/26/change-is-in-the-air-seaweed-seaweed-everywhere/
https:// vimeo .com/89868953

Conference Will Highlight Pesky Seaweed On Texas Coast

Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504; By Laurence Bergreen
Well, there you have it. A fellow Aimfair member opened the door to some very interesting information about living organisms in the sea that we certainly did not know about.

It is also interesting to know the property was unpopulated in September. We have heard the same about Nuevo Vallarta as well. One of the reasons could be the company convention took place in Spain this year, so many decision makers were not on properties. Perhaps reservations were sparingly given out.
Another great update about the Riviera Maya property. We are sure the Sargassum issue will be tended to in good order in the coming months. Thank you for the update!
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