During our time in Merida, Mexico I had a fascinating conversation with a Uber driver named Oscar who is a marine biologist. He drives Uber to help balance the family budget. I asked Oscar what kind of projects he was working on as a marine biologist and he told me about the huge infestation of sargassum grasses along the ocean fronts in Mexico. Large mats of the smelly free-floating brown seaweeds are clogging the beaches.
The seaweed gets its name from the Sargasso Sea an area of the Atlantic where the seaweed in Mexico was first thought to originate although scientists now trace it to a large bloom off the coast of Brazil.
“Sea turtles are drowning because they can’t get to the surface as they make their way through the seaweed mass to come to shore and lay their eggs,” Oscar told me. Sargassum can also harm corals, seagrass and sponges. As the seaweed decays, it reduces oxygen levels for a time. Dolphins and other sea mammals have been trapped in this oxygen-deprived water.
I asked Oscar what is causing this unusual phenomena and he said scientist have several theories. Nutrients and chemicals dumped into the ocean by farmers, urban developers, industrialists and forestry projects is one possible cause. Another is climate change and the increase in water temperatures. Apparently the two things sargassum needs to thrive are warm water temperatures and an increase in nutrient levels in the water.
The sargassum grass is almost impossible to remove effectively and is directly impacting the Mexican economy because it causes tourists to stay away from beaches and resorts and makes things difficult for locals who fish for their income. Oscar says some resorts are erecting concrete barriers in the ocean to prevent the sargassum from washing in but this can have harmful repercussions for all kinds of sea life.
When I talked with Oscar I was in the midst of completing a writing assignment for a week of spiritual meditations about the environment. Our conversation reinforced for me the importance of thinking and writing about creation care.