MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - An infestation of seaweed along large stretches of Mexico's Caribbean coast, home to many of the country's top beach destinations, is not a major problem, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday.
Attributed to climate change by many researchers, growing volumes of the brown seaweed have blanketed many beaches in recent years, alarming tourists as well as investors over the potential consequences for one of Mexico's major growth drivers.
"The seaweed is a minor issue," Lopez Obrador told reporters at a news conference in Cancun, Mexico's top beach destination, adding that he is not worried about the seaweed causing major damage to the tourist-dependent economies.
Describing Quintana Roo, the state surrounding Cancun, as "paradise," Lopez Obrador shrugged off several reporters who aggressively pressed him about the dire impact that surging seaweed has already caused for area hotels and other beach-front businesses.
The state's governor, Carlos Joaquin, was also present at the news conference and likewise played down the seaweed's impact on the local hospitality industry.
Rafael Ojeda, head of Mexico's Navy, said some 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) of Mexican beaches have been affected by the scourge, which makes swimming unpleasant, and that the government is crafting a plan to pinpoint which areas should take action.
Ojeda said that the government will spend $2.7 million to build four boats specially designed to remove seaweed, in addition to new barriers to retain it, all funded with public money without the use of private contractors.
Despite downplaying the problem and extolling the beauty of Mexico's beaches, Lopez Obrador also said the government is working to address it, later pledging "all the resources that are needed."
Last month, Moody's Investors Service flagged the seaweed risk to Mexican tourism sector and called on the government to intensify efforts to protect affected beaches.
(Reporting by Sharay Angulo and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Sandra Maler)