Sargassum pioneer and good Samaritan

[Barbados] This former engineer, who lived in England for about two decades, has been experimenting with what many disregard as a smelly, brown menace –– the Sargassum weed –– for more than five years now, and he has been reaping the benefits.

For him, it’s a wonder still to be fully discovered, and he is puzzled as to why authorities are taking so long to cash in on the seaweed that carpets beaches on the east, south and north coasts.

“I think so far we’ve missed the boat. Sargassum can be put to good use. I feel the Government of Barbados has made a big error in not getting somebody that knows something about it and put some money into developing it.”

In his backyard, where bountiful vegetables and herbs of all kinds bloom in every container imaginable, Atwell has uncovered the benefits of the seaweed, which he uses as an organic mulch.

That product –– Ocean Surf Local Organic Garden Mulch –– has been a popular fertilizer for farmers ever since it hit the market in June, 2011.

“The majority of peple tell me this thing is fantastic. I gave it to Minister of Health John Boyce and he put it to his lime tree and now the tree is doing well. Nobody has ever complained about it. It doesn’t burn the plants, and there is no foul smell.”

Cavendish Atwell, 86, started working with Sargassum as a hobby.
Cavendish Atwell, 86, started working with Sargassum as a hobby.

To prepare the mulch, Atwell collects the seaweed, dries it in the sun, and then runs it through a grater. This removes most of the sand and salt.

“First, you must get the moisture out. Once you get the moisture out of it, it is as simple as ABC. You put it on something like galvanize, let the sun hit and dry it all out, and when it is dry, you grate it into finer bits. You can even just store it away, and it will last for years.”

Atwell wants to see more widescale production, and suggests that Government should look into to using now defunct sugar factories to process the seaweed.

“You can run it through the old mills, grind it down, bag it and then sell. It can make a lot of money.”

At his home in St Lawrence, Christ Church, Atwell has been using his mulch to grow produce in his own backyard.

The green, healthy display of produce, including carrots, beets, onions, garlic and others, bear testimony to the mulch’s effectiveness.

“There is something in Sargassum that’s just good for plants. I take it and I put it around the plants, and they stay green and grow well.”

Cavendish Atwell loves gardening and enjoys giving away his produce.
Cavendish Atwell loves gardening and enjoys giving away his produce.

And when it’s time for harvesting, he doesn’t keep it all for himself. He freely gives to neighbours and any passers-by in need.

“I do this here for fun. I am not looking for a profit. I like to see plants green and growing. Everybody can have a share.”

More than anything else, Atwell wants to see his backyard hobby in communities across the island; and he says it’s not too late to get started.

“We have an opportunity here. Don’t let the Sargassum just stay on the beach, and then you just dump it. Let’s make the investment; and it will pay off!”

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