*Updated July 13, 2018
There’s nothing quite like white sand beaches and crystal clear waters of the Caribbean and a tropical vacation. But what happens when beach seaweed washes ashore in masses too large for all-inclusive resort staff to remove daily? The seaweed is called sargassum, and its washing up on shores in Mexico and the Caribbean in larger amounts.
Sargassum, or brown-colored seaweed with small pods attached, has been a growing problem in 2011. In 2015, reports of seaweed on were at a high, with the 15-nation Caribbean community meeting to discuss the impact of the beach seaweed on tourism.
This year, beach seaweed continues to wash up in some all-inclusive vacation destinations, such as Mexico (Tulum area), and Antigua, Jamaica, and St. Lucia. Other islands may also be affected, though we have not heard reports from travellers to these destinations yet.
AMResorts, which has resorts in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Panama, Curacao and Puerto Rico, released a statement on July 13, 2018 regarding this year’s sargassum problem, saying:
“AMResorts staff is working as quickly as possible to remove this extra seaweed as the ocean delivers it to us. How quickly the seaweed returns throughout the day is unfortunately up to mother nature.
We encourage our guests to enjoy our gorgeous pools and take in our stunning views from a poolside lounge chair.”
What is sargassum, or beach seaweed?
Sargassum is a brown seaweed with small pods attached that floats free and provides a natural habitat for many species, including some fish, sea turtles, and other marine life. During spikes of sargassum, when the seaweed washes ashore, the ocean current brings the seaweed to the beach. The seaweed originally grows and floats in open water in the mid-North Atlantic Ocean, called the Sargasso Sea.
Small amounts of this washed up seaweed appear naturally every year from currents and the natural flow of the ocean.
What does the beach seaweed on shore mean for my vacation?
There has been no official declaration of natural disaster or issue regarding the affected areas by the Caribbean and Mexico seaweed problem.
Hotels along the affected beaches are using a range of methods in cleaning up their beachfront properties, but some activities in destinations affected may be limited due to the lack of clear waterfront property.
The washing up of seaweed in the Caribbean does not affect all islands, or all beaches on the affected islands, at the same time.
Should I cancel my trip or delay booking because of beach seaweed?
The influx of sargassum on beaches is considered a “force majeure,” meaning it’s weather-related and cannot be fixed or changed. Seaweed in the Caribbean is a natural phenomenon that occurs annually, but in recent years it has happened at a faster pace and larger quantity. Since there is no advisory for any of the affected destinations in place, regular terms and conditions regarding cancelling trips, with any applicable fees at the hand of the traveller, are in place.
For travellers looking to book a vacation, we recommend proceeding with your plans, with the understanding that your vacation will still be safe and can include pool-side sunshine, should the beach at your resort be affected. With ocean currents and changes in the wind, the seaweed in the Caribbean is regularly changing course; meaning one resort could be affected one day, and not the next as the issue moves further down the beach. The only way to truly avoid the beach seaweed problem is to plan a trip outside of the current, similar to booking outside of the hurricane path during hurricane season.