Quintana Roo, recommendations on how to deal with urgent challenges posted by coastal erosion and sargassum
The State of Quintana Roo in Mexico is one of the major touristic destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. Tourism accounts for 8.5% of Mexico’s GDP. Cancun airport receives 45% of all international arrivals in Mexico. Particularly, since 1970, tourism in Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Riviera Maya started booming, resulting in explosive increase of hotel and touristic facilities, which lead to a significant economic growth, but also to negative environmental impacts. Nowadays, Quintana Roo coastline is impacted by erosion and a dense amount of sargassum covering the shore (sargassum volumes doubles every 18 days), as well as water pollution caused by lack of proper sewage and unplanned urban expansion. Coastal ecosystems are beyond turning points, leading to irreversible degradation.
Coastal erosion: It is naturally caused by hurricanes and sea level rise caused from climate change. However, coastal erosion in Quintana Roo derives from uncontrolled growth of artificial structures and unplanned beach re-nourishment. The coast has been hit thrice by severe hurricanes (categories 4-5). To restore the damage and keep the state capacity to respond to tourism, Government invested in rapidly rebuilding the shore, without conducting proper environmental assessments to preserve existing ecosystems.
Sargassum: This type of seaweed is believed to appear in warm waters rich in nutrients. It is Nature response to water pollution. The amount of discharges poured directly in the ocean (rich in nutrients) pollutes the weater makes it favorable for sargassum to appear. Once onshore, sargassum exacerbates coastal erosion and can cause health issues and other environmental problems. More research is needed to determine why and when sargassum appears.
Environmental: Both coastal erosion and sargassum cause coral depletion and irreversible ecosystem damage.
Social-economic: If not managed properly, sargassum and erosion can turn away a considerable number of tourists, affecting Quintana Roo´s main economic driver.
How to deal with key problems
Quinta Roo needs an Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan to become resilient to climate change. This plan should include ways to prevent sargassum reaching the shore, to properly dispose it and to grant other uses for it, such as the production of biofuel or fertilizers.
The Plan should include all stakeholders in a collaborative approach, fighting against distrust amongst participants. To elaborate the plan, experts suggest gathering local and federal government, as well as key stakeholders such as hotel owners associations, universities and municipalities. In the meantime, it is important to establish a Crisis Team, chaired on a Federal Level to manage sargassum. Its primary task should be:
- Launch projects to minor sargassum and obtain information to manage sargassum before its arrival.
- Collect and remove sargassum offshore, avoiding the seaweed reaching the shore.
- Sargassum must not be stored on the shore, dunes or other coastal areas without proper conditions.
- Storing facilities should maintain sargassum properties so it can be processed and commercialized.
- Sargassum could be used as biofuel for power generation.
- Inform general public and tourists how sargassum is being managed and what mitigation measures are implemented.
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