Possible impact of Seaweed Barriers for the Turtle Population


Obviously one of the mayor attractions of visiting Cancun are those beautiful beaches accompanied by the warm water of the Caribbean Sea. Exactly this is now under thread by a natural phenomenon: Seaweed (Sargassum – a brown macroalga originating from the Atlantic Ocean's Sargasso Sea).

After a noticeable decrease of foreign visitors this year in the location based on press reports related to security issues the private sector (mostly hotels and operators) are trying to avoid any further revenue losses and the only possible solution seems to be the implementation of seaweed barriers to avert the accumulation of the algae on the pristine beaches.

Even though there seems to be no clear concept that is being supported by the local authorities, individual groups have initiated the installation of these barriers in the Riviera Maya.

The appearance of the seaweed coincides with the sea turtle season and the big question that arises are if these barriers will have an impact on the mother turtles getting to the sandy beaches to lay their eggs or on the baby turtles once hatched, hindering their way to the ocean.

In the whole discussion of the barriers this point has never been evaluated and it seems that possible financial losses are given priority. That being said we were not able to determine if any scientific research has ever been conducted to evaluate the impact.

In an interview Gisela Maldonado Saldaña, vice president of the "Grupo Tortuguero del Caribe" (Caribbean Turtle Group), explained that when the baby turtles hatch, they absorb the egg yolk, which gives them sufficient energy to swim for up to two weeks until they reach their natural habitat. The egg yolk stays in their abdominal cavity and this reserve of fat prevents them also from submerging easily, doing so is a waste of energy they will need to swim, said the specialist.

Submerging to cross the barriers against the seaweed and the layer of algae that accumulates at the back presents an unnecessary obstacle for the turtle hatchlings and a waste of the energy they need to reach the open sea safely.

However, the biologist also pointed out that there is no single model of barrier type, so some could affect more than others. Normally they measure up to 20 centimeters below the waterline, but that already represents an enormous effort for the little turtles. In the absence of a single model, experts on sea turtles have not been able to study the case thoroughly to issue recommendations on the matter and they have not yet been installed as planned in different parts of the coast.

There is no scientific evidence of the impact of seaweed for the sea turtles in Cancun although there are different Hypotheses of indirect effects on their diet. As long no further research will be conducted only the future will tell the truth when the numbers of the sea turtle population dwindle even further down...

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