As the sun rises in Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, home to the white sandy beaches of Cancun and Tulum, Rear Admiral Alejandro Lopez Zenteno readies his sailors for another day of dragging rafts of brown seaweed to shore and out of view of cocktail-sipping tourists.
Zenteno heads the operation for the Mexican Navy, which coordinates with the state and local governments to protect an area visitor trade that was valued at more than $15 billion annually before the coronavirus pandemic hit, according to Quintana Roo’s tourism secretariat.
When it washes ashore, the plant - known as sargassum - turns black and emits a sewage-like stench so powerful it has been known to make travelers ill. It attracts insects and turns the area’s famed turquoise snorkeling waters a sickly brown.
And it just keeps coming.