It is gone for now, but who is to say that the unsightly and smelly Sargasso will not be back on our shores once the weather changes? This is the question the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) and the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) are asking themselves. Most importantly, they are looking into ways to address the issue before it becomes a problem again.
As part of its 30th Anniversary observance, the BTIA held a Sargassum Practical Solutions Forum on December 3, 2015. Sub-director of the Technical Unit of the Conservation and Management of Protected Natural Reserves in the Yucatan Peninsula and Mexican Caribbean, CONANP, Biol. Nallely Hernandes Palacios, General Secretary and CEO of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, Hugh Riley, Oceana Field Representative for North Islands, Roxanne Perez-Gentle and Build-a-Beach volunteer Amber Edwards, sat on a panel of discussion along with tourism stakeholders from around the country to discuss regional initiatives and solutions to the Sargasso problem.
Roxanne Perez-Gentle of Oceana explains sargasso beach clean-up efforts in Belize
Already taking the region by surprise in late 2014 and affecting the tourism industry through most of 2015, the Sargasso invasion accounted for booking cancellations, substantial cleanup costs and loss in revenue, the BTIA wants stakeholders to be prepared if and when it comes back.
Panelists, especially Palacios form Yucatan, presented all the initiatives taken by Mexico to clear the Sargasso from hard-hit Cancun, Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya stretch. There is marine machinery that costs up to $300,000 that clears 7.5 tons of Sargasso per day, vehicles that rake the beach and even manual labor, all effective in their own way.
Sargasso beach clean-up machinery in Cancun, Mexico
The major problem comes with the disposal of the large tonnage of Sargasso collected, brining up other costly issues of transportation and environmental impacts. The task is daunting, but most countries are weighing out the positive outcomes over the negative ones. The reality is that the situation has to be addressed as private property owners clean up their areas and public spaces remain filthy and smelly.
The BTB and government has extended their support with a joint task force from the Ministries of Tourism and Aviation, Forestry and Fisheries, and Natural Resources already considering a policy for the best way forward in producing a national policy on the issue; Cabinet has already been briefed on the issue.
Problems lay in that each beach location along the coast of Belize experience unique issues of erosion, Sargasso pile-up, environmental effects and cleanup. Tourism stakeholders are doing all that they can to keep the beaches clean, but are depending on Belize government officials to come up with a larger plan for when the Sargasso comes back.
Beach Clean-up volunteers in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize