Now let’s get into the weeds. Sargassum is a brown seaweed with berrylike air bladders, typically forming large floating masses. Xcalak has a major sargassum problem. It piles up along the shores making it difficult to navigate and creating an unsightly mess. And it smells—awful.

According to the locals, the sargassum phenomenon is new. Grass has always washed up at certain times of the year, but in the past it was manageable. Now it’s not. What’s caused the change?

Local environmental groups believe the problem is man-made, caused by people thousands of miles away. As Brazil has cut down more of its rainforest to turn the land into pasture and crops for its cattle industry, it has increasingly turned to fertilizer to increase yields. Though the natural canopy of rainforest has been plowed, the rains persist, washing fertilizer downstream into the sea. Fertilizers in the Amazon Basin now feed huge blooms of sargassum, which ride ocean currents north to the shores of tiny Xcalak.

It’s unclear how to resolve an issue stemming from so far away, and demonstrates the fragility of these interconnected ecosystems.