International media chastised over Sargussum coverage
A leading professor attached to the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus has said that Barbados has not been left out to sea as the island grapples with the barrage of Sargassum seaweed on beaches lining the north, south-east and east coasts.
Hazel Oxenford, a professor of Marine Ecology and Fisheries, has chastised international media for what she called “unfair” coverage of the phenomenon, which she stressed, was not new or exclusive to Barbados or its Caribbean neighbours.
“It’s very unfair press, it’s unfortunate, but we have got better things to focus on like how we are going to tackle it,” she told Barbados TODAY in an interview.
American, British and Canadian media have been cautioning travellers not to expect the usual pristine, white beaches in the Caribbean, which they reported were being overtaken by foul banks of the decaying Sargassum.
Professor Oxenford suggested that Barbados counter the negative publicity by simply turning the spotlight to the unaffected west coast.
“We need to focus more on the west coast where much of the primary tourist plant is. The west coast is fine. It’s only a portion of the island that’s affected and the most heavily affected part of the island is where there isn’t much tourism or beach tourism on the east coast,” Oxenford told Barbados TODAY.
She explained the west coast was unlikely to suffer the same effects, “because the Sargassum is coming in with the current, and the current hits the island on the east and south east, primarily on the windward side. That’s where it lands. The current doesn’t bring the Sargassum on to the west coast, it brings it up past the southwest coast and it only lands on the southwest coast if the winds swings around, and it would only land on the south west coast if we got a westerly wind, which we very rarely do.”
Behind the scenes, the UWI, in collaboration with the University of Mississippi, has secured grant funding through the Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) General Environment Fund for research over the next six months into the chemical makeup of the weed, and it’s nutritional value to the ecosystem, among other things.
“We are going to be looking to see whether we can predict the events that are occurring that are allowing sea weed to propagate and arrive on our shores. We are also going to be looking at the impact of the pelagic fisheries, which are flying fish and the dolphin fish, and see if we can understand exactly what those impacts are and what’s causing them, because it’s quite hard to mitigate when you don’t understand the cause.
“In terms of dealing with the Sargassum when it arrives on our shores, other departments within the UWI will be looking at the chemistry [of the weed], looking at the feasibility of using it in fertilizers and other pharmaceutical products and so on.”
The professor noted that in other parts of the world like some states of the United States there has been success in using dried, clean Sargassum weed its fertilizer and mulch.
The UWI has organized a symposium on Sargassum next Monday, which will bring together key groups to map out a plan on how to tackle the issue.
“It is going to be a think tank where we share information, make sure we are on the same page, and for all of the stakeholders – the tourism sector, the agriculture sector, fisheries, the Coastal Zone Management unit and university staff – we are all going to be coming together to have a panel discussion and then round table discussions on where to go from here and what needs to be done.
“I expect lots of ideas and initiatives that will benefit the public of Barbados to come out of that think tank.”