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article imageLópez Obrador: Sargassum problem is 'not very serious'

By Karen Graham     Jun 24, 2019 in World
President López Obrador today downplayed the gravity of sargassum landing on beaches in the Mexican Caribbean during a visit to Quintana Roo, emphasizing the actions his government is taking to address the problem.
While the Mexican president is downplaying the issue, the sargassum invasion is a lot worse than he is letting on. The floating algae has now invaded the coastlines in South Florida and the Caribbean in general.
Sargassum is a genus of large brown seaweed (a type of algae) that floats in island-like masses. Its berry-like structures are gas-filled bladders known as pneumatocysts, which provide buoyancy to the plant and allows it to float on the ocean's surface. As the planet warms and the Atlantic Ocean gets hotter, the Caribbean waters and the Gulf of Mexico have become a perfect breeding ground for sargassum.
In a press conference Monday morning, Lopez Obrador said that emergency declarations by the government of Quintana Roo were "irresponsible attempts to make contracts with sargassum-collecting companies and discredit the federal government," according to Mexico News Daily.
Further belittling the government of Quintana Roo, Lopez Obrador pointed out that the sargassum collected on the beaches was "less than 3 percent of the 13,000 tons of trash collected daily in Mexico City."
Reporters demanded a clarification of the numbers and the president was incorrect. The president said the actual number is 347 kilograms (754 pounds), not even half a ton. Quintana Roo Governor Carlos Joaquín González said on Sunday that a ton of sargassum is being collected daily.
In early May, Lopez Obrador put the navy in charge of combating the sargassum problem.
At the time, AMLO said there was no reason to hire experts on the removal of the "unsightly and smelly seaweed" because the Secretariat of the Navy (Semar) has its own “very good” experts and equipment. AMLO said the strategy would avoid extra costs and be more efficient.
Navy Secretary Rafael Ojeda also spoke at the news conference Monday morning, saying 52 million pesos ($2.7 million) of federal money is being invested to install barriers to keep sargassum from reaching beaches and build a fleet of 10 to 12 sargassum-collecting vessels in navy shipyards. Each vessel will take one to two months to build.
Ojeda says the problem is not in collecting the algae, but in what to do with it once they collect it. A Cancún hotel association has predicted the weed would cost the tourism industry millions of dollars.
Sargassum impacting tourism in Florida
The sargassum problem in Southern Florida is getting so bad that it is aggravating asthma problems and irritating people's skin. However, even worse, the bacteria-filled decaying seaweed stinks, really bad, apparently, according to the Miami New Times.
"It's so bad that a friend of mine was staying at the Edition, and she had to leave the hotel," Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, a former Miami Beach commissioner now running for her old seat, said last week at a public meeting about the seaweed.
"She said that the smell, it just permeates the hallways. It's inside of people's apartments. I mean, they're living and breathing the seaweed. And now that I understand the bacterial component, this is as serious a public health crisis as Zika, so maybe we need to get some emergency help and funding."
At the public meeting, attended by Miami-Dade government officials, Maria Nardi, director of the county's parks department, gave a presentation explaining what is involved in removing the noxious weed from the 15-miles of beaches. It could cost $35 million the first year, and complete daily removal of the sargassum could run up to $45 million per year.
Nardi added that using tractors for the cleanup would turn the beaches into an industrial site. "It's a solution and it's an option, but it's not an easy one to swallow," she said.
The bottom line for both Florida beaches and Mexico's beaches is that residents want the sargassum removed, period. And yes, in Florida, it has become a health hazard, while in Quintana Roo, it is having an impact on providers of beach activities, sports, and restaurants.
More about sargassum, Quintana Roo, Lopez Abrador, Mexico, Mexican Navy
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