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That annoying Sargassum seaweed! How do we deal with it?

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For the last few years, massive amounts of Sargassum seaweed have been washing up on Caribbean beaches, creating problems for tourism operators, fishers, coastal dwellers and some sea creatures.

Despite being quite a nuisance, the Sargassum is quite an important part of the coastal ecosystems and helps stabilize beaches. {{more}}Although the seaweed has only started coming ashore on Caribbean beaches for the last four years or so, it actually originates in the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean and has been around for centuries.

The sheer quantity of the stuff that washes up and the stench it gives off when it starts to rot sometimes encourages those affected to take drastic actions to deal with the problem. We have heard of the problems caused to fishers when the seaweed gets caught in boat engines, fish nets and fishing lines. Fishermen have even reported falling revenues, as they have been unable to go out to fish. Tourism operators have been complaining of the negative effect of the seaweed on their tourism product and how much of a turn-off it is to guests. The seaweed has even caused the suspension of a swimming programme in the North Windward community of Owia.

Yesterday, the St Vincent and Grenadines Hotel and Tourism Association (SVGHTA) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) released a resource guide which gives recommendations for removing the Sargassum from our beaches and alternative uses of the seaweed (see page 11). The release of the guide is timely, for in our desire to rid our bay sides and beaches of the matted mess, we could be using methods which provide a quick, short-term solution, while causing a long-term one to the environment. For example, when heavy duty equipment is used to shovel up the seaweed from our beaches, we remove not just the seaweed, but with it large quantities of sand and other beach organisms, hastening beach erosion and making our islands more vulnerable to the rising sea levels which come with climate change.

And could we not find useful ways to use this organic material instead of just dumping it? Schools are on vacation now and perhaps organizers of some of the dozens of summer programmes could engage our secondary and college age students in projects to come up with practical ways to utilize the Sargassum, possibly leading to income generation, including the manufacture of biofuel, fertilizer or even beverages and food items.

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