Don’t Panic! Caribbean Seaweed This Year May Not Be That Horrible

Good news for the seaweed-phobic -- Caribbean seaweed may not ruin your beach vacation this year after all. Last year saw a record-breaking volume of seaweed in the Caribbean, and sargassum mats washed up on beaches across the region -- (understandably) grossing out a lot of travelers. In January we reported that things weren't looking much better for 2016, but we spoke again to Chuanmin Hu, a professor of optical oceanography at the University of South Florida, to get an updated prognosis. We're happy to say that satellite imagery showed very little seaweed for February and March. 

"I see some, but definitely not as bad as last year for the past two months. This is already mid-April and it has been quiet, and the water has been pretty clean in the entire Caribbean," Hu says. It seems safe to assume that travelers won't see the 2015 levels of seaweed recur. "At this time one year ago, in the entire central West Atlantic and some of the Caribbean, it was full of sargassum already. This year there still may be some sargassum beaching events, but it won’t be as bad as last year." 

So if you've been thinking of canceling your Caribbean trip out of fear of foul-smelling seaweed marring your pristine white beach, you may want to reconsider. Still, it's important to note that predicting seaweed growth and beaching is very unlike a weather prediction, and less precise; Hu can only compare satellite imagery to prior years and make estimates. So even though things are looking promising, seaweed can still be somewhat unpredictable. "Little is known about their growth rate, how water circulation drives [sargassum mats] around, how they get dissipated, all these fundamental questions have not been answered yet," Hu says. 

For example, in 2014, the water also looked pretty clean until late April -- but that year saw five or six times more seaweed than 2010 or any year before. Though 2015 saw 20 times as much seaweed as 2010, the 2014 seaweed volume was still more than many travelers may appreciate. "April [was] the transition month in previous years," Hu says. "So maybe next month we may have a better answer for this." 

Many resorts, for their part, are preparing to do what they can to prevent seaweed from disrupting their guests' stays. Hilde Rodriguez, an Executive Assistant at Secrets Silversands Riviera Cancun, says that if it proves necessary, the resort will "increase the number of staff involved in cleaning and maintenance of the beach area" and "emphasize the different activities available at the property."

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