Seaweed invasion! Temporal changes in beach conditions lead to increasing cenote usage and contamination in the Riviera Maya

Author ORCID Identifier

Leila Porter:https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4520-8617

Publication Title

Sustainability (Switzerland)



Document Type



Since 2011, tourism to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula has been heavily impacted by large masses of sargassum seaweed washing up on the beaches, with the largest seaweed event occurring in 2019. Seaweed deters beach tourism, potentially shifting tourism inland towards other activities such as swimming in cenotes (sinkholes). Our mixed methods study combined data from surveys of visitors to the region, interviews with tourists and tour operators, thematic analysis of newspaper articles, laws and policies and analysis of water samples from a cenote to understand the environmental impact on cenotes of this shifting tourism industry. We identified intentional efforts by the tourism industry to encourage cenote tourism in response to the seaweed problem, and our survey and interview data confirmed that tourists are choosing to visit cenotes in lieu of beaches. Water samples from one tourist cenote in 2019 indicated increased pollution relative to previous years. Current regulations and management of tourist cenotes are weak, creating the potential for significant long term harm to the environment and to the water sovereignty of surrounding communities. Regulation of cenotes should be strengthened to protect these fragile karst ecosystems and to give local and indigenous residents a formal voice in the management process.

Publication Date





Adaptation, Cancun, Cenotes, Climate change, Mexico, Sargassum, Seaweed, Tourism, Water


Department of Geographic and Atmospheric Sciences