A massive clean up operation is taking place on San Andrés Island after a massive algae bed washed ashore during the weekend, affecting beaches and blocking access to the sea. Volunteers from the Colombian Civil Defense, as well as tourism operators have been overwhelmed by kilometers of seaweed which has invaded the iconic sandy beaches in one of the nation’s most pristine holiday destinations.

Located 500 miles northeast from Colombia’s continental coastline, the archipelago of San Andrés, Santa Catalina and Providencia, are part of a long and bitter maritime dispute with Nicaragua over ownership of the islands and their surrounding waters.

The seaweed, which blanketed the beaches of Sprath Bight has also made navigation difficult for fishermen and affecting one of the main sources of income for these islanders in the western Caribbean. According to local environmentalists, the seaweed drifted from the central Caribbean towards San Andres due to strong Trade Winds from the Atlantic, and the storms brewing in the region during the start of ‘Hurricane Season.’ The orange colored algae bypassed the windswept islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina.

While it is usually tourists who invade the beaches of San Andrés, the seaweed in September, may prove to be a fertile breeding ground for lobster larvae and fish. Local authorities have advised tourists to be patient while the clean effort continues across the southern coast of the island, and avoid contact with the algae in case of possible skin reactions and allergies.