The Sargassum Invasion Has Begunby Dori Saltzman /
The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, a giant 5,000-mile-long mass of sargassum seaweed, which Travel Market Report first reported on last month, is starting to make landfall in Florida, the Caribbean, and parts of Mexico.
According to an interactive map on sargassummonitoring.com, piles of seaweed have already hit several beaches in Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and Quintana Roo-area beaches including tourist hotspots in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, as well as on beaches along Cozumel, a popular stop on cruise itineraries.
The situation along these beaches, and others, are only expected to worsen as spring progresses into summer. A March 31 report from the University of South Florida Optical Oceanography Lab estimated the stretch of seaweed is about 13 million tons, a record for this time of year.
"In the central West Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico, Sargassum quantity all exceeded the 75th percentile for the same month between 2011 and 2022 but did not reach the historical record," the report reads.
With the quantity of sargassum expected to increase (possibly becoming the largest ever recorded), "major beaching events" are expected throughout the season (typically from March to October).
Already, Fort Lauderdale is seeing more sargassum than it usually does. As of last week, Fort Lauderdale's park service removed approximately 920 yards of seaweed from beaches this year, said Park Operations Superintendent, Mark Almy. When compared to the same time period last year, it only needed to remove 282 yards. So far, no beaches have needed to be shut down.
Sargassum has also appeared on beaches in the Florida Keys, but a spokesperson for the Keys told TMR this week that the amount washing ashore is not yet any different from previous years. The Keys said it is ready to deal with the amount that is coming ashore right now, and an increased amount that could possibly come ashore at a later date.
The City of Key West, for instance, employs a beach cleaning contractor that cleans beaches every day, according to Public Information Officer Alyson Crean. Oceanside hotels also typically employ their own staff or contractors to deal with removal.
Travel Advisor Take
Though the seaweed itself is harmless to humans, it can pose a danger to native flora and fauna, and becomes a smelly, offensive mess as it accumulates – and decays – on beaches.
"What happens is, as it dries out, it has a really pungent stench that makes a really enjoyable trip go downhill," explained Darryl Jenkins, owner of Boxley Enterprise Travel, an InteleTravel affiliate.
Jenkins told TMR that whenever possible he consults maps of Cancun beaches to see where sargassum is more likely to be found before choosing a resort to send clients to. He also tries to steer his clients to alternative all-inclusive locations such as the Dominican Republic or Jamaica, where the sargassum season is shorter and milder.
"Being a natural phenomenon, it's completely out of anyone's control," added Nichole Patrick, owner of Traverse The Earth Travel, LLC, an independent agency in the Avoya network. However, like Jenkins, she knows what the safer places are to send clients.
"There are so many areas that are 'less' affected by it. An example in Mexico would be the Playa/Costa Mujeres area north of the Hotel Zone in Cancun that has Isla Mujeres to catch the majority of Sargassum that floats through the area. For the Dominican Republic, La Romana is around the 'bend' of the island, thus catches less of the annoying seaweed."