Seaweed causing widespread fish kill

[British Virgin Islands] The Sargassum seaweed has been killing fishes is several sections of the British Virgin Islands, said Kelvin Penn, Acting Chief Conservation and Fisheries Officer.

The confirmation came this afternoon (October 2) after concerned residents took photos of a fish kill in the Handsome Bay area of Virgin Gorda.

Penn said the Conservation and Fisheries Department is also aware of fishes being killed in other sections of the territory including the Sea Cow’s Bay, Fish Bay and East End areas of Tortola.

“It’s all over the island really,” he said, adding that it is actually the decayed seaweed that is causing the problem.

“The seaweed has started to decompose and, as it decomposes, it uses up a lot of oxygen in the water, and so the fish that are living in the water would also die because they can’t get any oxygen.


“Also, the decomposing seaweed probably release a lot of gases, and so that would also help to affect the fish,” Penn further said.

While admitting that the situation with the seaweed seems to be getting worse because of climate change, the Conservation and Fisheries officer stated that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour is ‘working on the situation’ and plans are afoot to hold a press conference in relation to the matter.

“From there, we will try to address the situation,” he said.

Penn indicated that it may take a while for the fish kill to end and the decomposed seaweed is removed.

“Hopefully the situation will clear up itself in a period of time after the seaweed is removed. Or, if it just decomposes, it would probably take a long time – maybe a few weeks unless we get some nice rain to wash it away.”

Meanwhile, asked whether the Sargassum seaweed poses any threat to the human population, Penn stated that, apart from the stench that it emanates when it is decomposing, there is not much need to worry.

“It doesn’t really pose a threat in terms of like it is poisonous. Most of the times, if it is in large quantity on the shoreline, it smells bad as it decomposes; that’s the major threat we are having. In terms of tourism – people being able to swim, it’s affecting them that way rather than direct threat,” said Penn.

Meanwhile, the Conservation and Fisheries Department recently disclosed that the Sargassum seaweed is a good habitat for the fish population in the territory.

At the time, Mervin Hastings from the Department was quoted by the Government Information Service as saying: “The Sargassum provides a nursery for many species of fish and is similar to a mangrove system, as mangroves are important nurseries for fish, crab, turtles and other marine creatures.”

The floating brown seaweed is a marine algae that originates from the Sargasso Sea, which is a region in the Gyre of the North Atlantic Ocean.

The Sargassum is commonly found on beaches and shorelines throughout tropical areas worldwide, and undergoes seasonal cycles of growth and decay due to changes in sea temperature that may or may not be attributed to Climate Change.


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