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Safe to swim

Sea bathers are being assured that it is safe to swim at beaches along the South Coast despite the presence of a brown substance known as sea sawdust (Trichodesmium erythraeum) floating in the water.

This assurance has come from officials at the Coastal Zone Management Unit, who made it clear that the substance was not oil or sewage, but a species of cyanobacteria or blue-green algae.

The CZMU received a number of reports earlier this week about an oil slick and a strange brown substance floating in the water.

But during an interview, Coastal Planner at the CZMU, Fabian Hinds, stressed that the presence of the sea sawdust in the water would not have any toxic effects on marine life or on the health of sea bathers.

“It is still safe to swim,” he stated.

“The presence of sea saw dust has been recorded by the Coastal Zone Management Unit and the Environmental Protection Department since 1998, where it has consistently arrived at Barbados’ shores every March,” he said, noting it was initially felt that the brown substance was oil or sewage.

The expert further explained that sea sawdust was a one cell organism which multiplied and formed colonies. He added that it was a nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which made it available for use in the marine environment, and when there were large blooms it had the potential to turn the water pink.

“Barbados has not experienced that so far,” he said, noting that there was nothing officials could do at this point.

“Nature is the boss,” he remarked.

Hinds further disclosed that unlike the sargassum seaweed, no widescale clean-up campaigns were needed for the sea sawdust as they were like fine sawdust particles that could be covered by sand and washed away by the currents.

“It is different to the sargassum which is big and leafy and can be more problematic,” he explained.

Marine Biologist at the CZMU, Caroline Bissada-Gooding, also explained that the presence of sea sawdust was a natural part of the ecosystem and cycle.

“It came with the currents and it will go with the currents,” she stated.

Sea sawdust was spotted throughout the South Coast from Oistins, Christ Church, along Accra, Coconut Court, and may reach Carlisle Bay by today. It is expected that the substance will be present in Barbados’ waters until April.

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