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This file photo taken on July 28, 2011, shows sargassum, also known as gulfweed, at Saint-Anne's beach in Martinique.

PATRICE COPPEE/AFP/Getty Images

We’ve got high hopes for a beach getaway this winter, but reports of seaweed-laden beaches have us nervous. Should we go?

The foul-smelling weed that is frustrating beach lovers and the hotels that support them is called sargassum. It is a particularly fast-growing algae, that gathers on shores quickly and can emit a terrible odour if left unattended. On a recent trip to Belize, I watched hotel staff attack it all morning with pitchforks and shovels, only to have to return a few hours later and do it again.

It is a scenario playing out at resorts across the Caribbean and Mexico.

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Sargassum wasn’t always aligned with dream-dashing. The brown seaweed grew in normal amounts and mainly in the North Atlantic until about 2011, providing a place for eels, turtles and other animals to thrive. Then, according to the Atlantic, a Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt began to form off the shores of Brazil. In the years since, that Belt has widened considerably – with recent estimates at more than 22 million tons of seaweed that stretch across the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico to the western coast of Africa. Oceanographers don’t believe there’s any end in sight to the weed’s continued growth.

As a result, resorts have had to change their approach.

When manual removal threatened to overwhelm their teams at their collection of 27 resorts across Mexico and the Caribbean, Bahia Principe Hotels and Resorts turned to marine biologists, oceanographers, engineers and divers.

The result was a comprehensive coastal management plan that includes a non-invasive system of floating lines and nets.

“What makes it unique is that it has a double barrier system,” explains Pablo del Toro, head of environmental management at Grupo Pinero, Bahia’s parent company. “… that allows us to collect the algae accumulated in the first line and not leave the beach unprotected, so we get maximum effectiveness.”

The company says that using the system this season has resulted in a 95 per cent reduction of the presence of sargassum on the beaches of its Mexico properties. They’ve gone from having to limit the beaches guests could use to effectively having no sargassum present at all.

Guests booking these resorts likely have a bit more peace of mind knowing the system is in place.

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It’s the kind of attention to the issue that you should look for in deciding where you should go. Make sure to look at recent pictures from guests online (Instagram, Oyster.com and TripAdvisor are options) before booking, ask your travel agent specifically about the beaches that you’d likely use from your resort and talk to the resorts directly to hear what if any collection plans are in place.

This map (sargassummonitoring.com) may help as well.

The other thing you can do is make sure that your resort has more to offer than its beach. Local tours will get you off the resort and exploring your location. That way, should mother nature foil your sand time, you’ll still get a vacation to remember.

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