I just returned from a trip to Tulum, in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico. The first 2-3 days of my trip gave us a lot of rain, and time to find answers to my questions about "What the heck is going on with all the seaweed on the beach?" I learned a lot, so I thought I would share.
I have traveled to Mexico before. I have stayed in Neuvo Vallarta (other coast), Cancun maybe four times, and one of those times I stayed in Playa del Carmen for a couple of nights. I thought I knew what to expect. I heard this year was bad for seaweed, but I didn't expect it to be THIS bad.
There was a lot of hearsay going around the resort. It's the weather (tropical storm), it's global warming, it's an oil spill that changed the balance in the water. In the end, when I looked online it seems that no one claims to completely understand the phenomenon, but it's agreed that the contributing factors are the unusually warm weather over the past year in the region, wind patterns, and sea currents. The weed originates in the Sargasso Sea and is affecting many of the beaches in the Caribbean floating in as great blankets of weed. Whether this is a "one off" or a cyclical event to be expected in future remains to be seen.
How this affects you the traveller? Well I guess this depends on which resort you are staying at, where it's located geographically, and what measures they are taking to clean it up. I've heard reports of some resorts using tractors to rake up the beach. Others they shovel by hand. And others simply choose to leave it as it stands. At my resort there was a rumor that they were doing it by hand due to the number of turtle nests which they did not want to disturb. Sadly, this week also causes the baby turtles to have an increasingly difficult time reaching the ocean waters in the areas where it is more dramatically affected. Some marine life is affected negatively, and some positively.
Where I stayed (Grand Bahia Principe Tulum) the beach was basically unusable. If you did want to go in to the ocean you would have to walk across about 20 feet of weeds, which were stacked about 3 feet high. On an overcast day (where the beach was not busy) we walked a little down to what we were soon to find out was the Privilege Club. As we tried to walk through the very small opening in the sargassum we were asked to turn around and go back to our assigned beach. We argued that we didn't want to walk through the weeds and we were gracefully given our requested 5 minutes in the water. We got in about knee deep and turned around and went back to the pool where we stayed for most of the week. Near the end we decided to get on a trolly and visit our sister resort Grand Bahia Principe Akumal. This area was cleared a little but more, but it was an uphill battle.
If you are a pool person, you probably don't even need to consider this, but your guests may be. I would actively look at recent beach photos from the resort you are considering if you are still in the choosing stages. Some are probably AOK, where others may be suffering. Weigh it in to your decision, because even knowing it was a bad year for seaweed, I was pretty disappointed. Does it ruin your vacation? No. Could it change your decision? Maybe. It might change mine. No one really knows how long this is going to go on. I imagine the resorts figure out ways to adapt.
I feel like I just wrote a 6th grade speech, but I really just wanted to share this information with my fellow brides. Hot tip: It's really fun to pop the berries, and the seaweed isn't slimy (though a little bit stinky).