Sargassum Invasion

Sargassum seaweed litters the beach at San Pedro on Ambergris Caye in Belize. Photo by Deirdre Hamill/Quest Imagery

There’s an invasion going on causing chaos at some of the most pristine beaches of the Caribbean, Mexico, Florida and Belize. The culprit is Sargassum seaweed.

Sargassum seaweed comes from the Sargasso Sea, a huge patch of ocean that has no land boundaries in the North Atlantic Ocean. It’s a body of water I’ve never heard of until writing this blog.

When I planned this particular trip to Belize, it included five days in the town of San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye, an island off of the mainland of Belize. Ambergris Caye is known for having some of the best snorkeling and diving spots in the world. It includes world famous Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The reserve is separated into four parts: the mangroves, the coral reef, the sea-grass beds and Shark Ray Alley. The coral reef part includes green Moray Eels, Nurse Sharks, barracudas, Spotted Eagle Rays along with an assortment of other fish.

My main concern was finding a hotel in a decent location. Some of the beach hotels were unusually cheap and I found several that were within our budget. I didn’t care about swimming conditions and didn’t pay much attention to the negative reviews from past costumers complaining about beach conditions because I was there for the snorkeling and a side trip to Caulker Caye, a sleepy island near Ambergris Caye.

The first day in San Pedro was decompressing after 12 hours of travel. We wandered the streets and looked for places to eat. On the second day, we spent the day walking around town and taking photos of the locals in their every day lives. On the third day we took a ferry to Caulker Caye which was close to us.

Caulker Cay is a quiet island. There are no paved roads just packed sand. Not as many tourists visit this island. We decided to walk a sandy street one direction for a mile and walked back to the dock by the beach. And it was at that moment I noticed the seaweed and how dense it was choking the crystal clear water.

When we returned to San Pedro, I noticed the seaweed along the beach, where I took the above photo. Out of curiosity I did some research on various websites and was horrified at the scope of the problem. This is is a widespread problem hurting tourism all over the Belize, the Caribbean, Mexico and Florida.

The locals in San Pedro told me they believed it was the result of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 where an estimated 210 million gallons of oil leaked and 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersant was used during the cleanup process. The theory was that it had something to do with the dispersant used. Others suggest it came from massive amounts of chemicals and fertilizing being dumped in the ocean causing the seaweed to grow at a record pace. Others theories include climate change.

This particular seaweed is so dense it affects turtles, various fish and at some point it may threaten Belizes’ barrier reef, choking the ocean life to its death.

The people who are complaining are the same people who contributed to the problem in the first pace, we all did.

Various fish and Nurse Sharks swim around bits of Sarggusm seaweed at “Shark Alley” in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Photo the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Photo by Deirdre Hamill

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