This sargassum situation in the Caribbean isn’t over yet, and it seems to have some people spreading myths.
I have spent hours in the water with it, and all around it on the beaches at Tulum, Mexico. Most of the crap people fear about sargassum is simply not true.
My myth-busting is based purely on my own experience – I’m not a biologist or oceanographer.
Myth #1: ‘Green worms are all over the stuff.’
Nope – not true.
I have closely inspected many sargassum clumps over the last five weeks, and also earlier this year in January and March on previous trips. So far, I haven’t seen any worms anywhere.
That’s not to say there aren’t some somewhere. The seaweed is home to a ton of life I know nothing about. But there are definitely no green worms ‘all over’ the stuff.
Myth #2: ‘Parasites in the seaweed lay eggs in your skin.’
Then how are people snorkeling, diving, fishing, swimming?
When some women showed me their skin rashes last month and claimed were the marks of something growing underneath the surface, I didn’t know how to react. That would so suck, and I’m so sorry if that’s the case!
A quick Google search reveals parasites can live in most kinds of seaweed. But, I couldn’t find any examples of parasites burrowing into swimmers’ skin to lay eggs. Not to say it couldn’t happen… I really don’t know. Again, I’m no scientist.
In my experience, this particular kind of seaweed has rubbed up all over my body, and I am parasite-egg-free.
Myth #3: ‘The seaweed grabs me in the water.’
Sounds like a scary B movie.
Sargassum can feel a little creepy in the water, especially where there is a lot of it. The sensation ranges from relatively soft and pliable to a little scratchy. It can feel like it’s creeping up your legs, down your back, etc.
But hey – that’s what seaweed does. It moves with the water, and well, you’re in the water with it. It’s not coming to get you.
Myth #4: ‘Sargassum on the beach will cut into your feet.’
No, it won’t.
Sargassum does trap litter – plastic and glass and whatever trash is out there. That refuse trapped in the rotting seaweed is what could cut you – not the actual seaweed itself.
Myth #5: ‘We booked an expensive hotel, so the beach will be clean.’
Yes, the more expensive places hire extra workers to clean the beach, but no, the beach may not stay clean because the tide may or may not cooperate. The cheaper place next door may benefit from your hotel’s forethought when the current changes.
Bottom line: even if the shore is cleaned up, the stuff is still coming in from the ocean with every gentle wave.
While most places in Tulum are using rakes and wheelbarrows to clean it up, there are only a few trucks moving sargassum from the shoreline because it’s turtle nesting season until next month.
There is a hotel north of Tulum using an experimental perimeter net to trap the sargassum and divert it away from the beach. I have been there to check it out, and it seemed to be working. It’s the Gran Bahia Principe resort complex, about a 20 minute drive north of Tulum.
The net effort was first reported in local media here last month, when the net stopped 80% of the sargassum in areas the nets could be placed where they would not affect turtle nesting.
Since then, there has been no follow-up report on if the attempt will be duplicated elsewhere. My guess is that it’s too expensive for the smaller hotels in Tulum.
Until nature decides she’s done making more of these smelly seaweed blooms, we are stuck with this stuff. Meantime, I’m tempted to pick up a rake and help clean the beach.