What Is Causing The Sargassum Seaweed?

The pungent smell of stagnant water, and the sight of a thick, brown substance carpeting the beach where seawater once flowed at Skeetes Bay, St. Philip, says it all – sargassum seaweed.

The mountain of seaweed piled at Long Beach in Christ Church tells a similar story.

These are just two of the beaches across Barbados being affected by the influx of the sargassum seaweed despite countless efforts to clear it from the island’s shores.

Following a tour of some of the beaches to mark World Environment Day on June 5, Acting Deputy Director of the Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU), Fabian Hinds, has concluded: “Something has gone seriously wrong.”

Mr. Hinds stated that while there was a lull at one point in the inflow of the seaweed, it had now reached quantities which were unsustainable in a socio economic context. “And this is just a drop in the pan,” he added.

He explained that usually the seaweed originated from the Sargassum Sea, but new evidence suggested that it might be coming from the Southern Atlantic and associated with the northern Congo River.

“But the question remains, what change occurred that was so significant to result in this?” he pondered, noting that no one could say definitively even now where the seaweed was coming from.

Speaking to the media while at Long Beach, Mr. Hinds said satellite technology was being used “in some circles” to track the Sargassum seaweed and study its movement using remote sensing. Once successful, he noted, it could be used as a tool to alert islands that a mass was on the way.

Until then, he stressed that Barbados and neighbouring islands needed to find more positive ways to deal with the Sargassum seaweed, which is now being used as a fertiliser in the agricultural sector.

A failure to address the situation, he warned, could have serious implications for the island’s tourism and fishing sectors, and have a negative impact on efforts to conserve the sea turtles.

At present, the only means available is the constant clearing of beaches, primarily through manual labour. But, the heavy pile-ups, some as high as six feet, suggest that even those efforts may be futile.

Still, Mr. Hinds is cautioning that the use of mechanical equipment on beaches, if not done properly, could in fact result in the excessive removal of beach sand along with the seaweed, resulting in beach erosion.

“In addition, mechanical equipment also carries a cost, the cost of the tractors and personnel, so we need to find other ways to remove and receive the biomass,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, stagnant water and piles of seaweed where waves once washed ashore tell the tale at Skeetes Bay, St. Philip, even as heavy equipment to remove it was parked nearby.

The Acting Deputy Director noted that the pile-up, which stretched for miles along the now deserted beach, could have been caused by just one raft of sargassum seaweed.

While the seaweed is threatening the viability of some of the island’s beaches, and creating problems for fishermen and their vessels, it is also presenting a physical barrier for the endangered sea turtles in two ways.

In the first instance, it creates a barrier for nesting turtles to properly access the shore to lay their eggs in the sand, and also makes it difficult for hatchlings to make it back to the shore to start their lives. “So, it can set back the sea turtle conservation measures if the problem continues to persist,” he stressed.

However, speaking to the touring party, Mr. Hinds explained that the issue of Sargassum seaweed was a trans-boundary problem which originated outside of the island’s waters, and therefore could not be addressed at simply the local level.

It is one, he said, which must be addressed regionally and internationally, particularly as it impacted small island developing states which were integrally linked through their coastlines.

Locally, agencies such as the CZMU, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Environment and Drainage, the National Conservation Commission, the Ministry of Transport and Works and the Ministry of Tourism, are presently coordinating efforts to address the problem.

However, efforts are also ongoing at the regional level, as other countries express concern about the impact which the seaweed is having on their shores.

However, Mr. Hinds made it clear that Sargassum was a natural ecosystem which had its place in the system. “But something has gone seriously wrong and we need to have a clear understanding of what is fuelling it,” he said. Until then, the only thing countries like Barbados can do, is make every attempt possible to manage the influx.

 

Photo: Acting Deputy Director of the Coastal Zone Management Unit, Fabian Hinds pointing to the mounds of sargassum seaweed at Long Beach, Christ Church during a coastal tour last Friday. (C.Pitt/BGIS)

View original article at: What Is Causing The Sargassum Seaweed?

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