Pluses from Sargassum

Marine expert suggests seaweed control rather than panicking

As this month marks a year since the Sargassum seaweed has returned to the shores of Barbados and other Eastern Caribbean countries, a university professor is predicting that it may be here “semi-permanently.”

Professor of marine ecology and fisheries with the University of the West Indies, Hazel Oxenford, told Barbados TODAY this afternoon, that the university was about to embark on a study to show the level of impact the brown, free-floating algae, originating in the Sargasso Sea, was having on countries, especially their fishing industries.

The scene at Bathsheba as seen in this picture taken by Romel Hall.
The scene at Bathsheba as seen in this picture taken by Romel Hall.
Sargassum seaweed at Bath Beach in St John.
Sargassum seaweed at Bath Beach in St John.

The seaweed, which first started washing up on the island’s shores in 2011, leaving for a period, is again causing concern among curious citizens with its proliferation on selected beaches across the island, particularly on the East Coast.

Professor Hazel Oxenford
Professor Hazel Oxenford

“It looks as though whatever changes are happening may be at least semi-permanent,” Oxenford said. “We really don’t know at this point and in fact we are about to embark on a study with the University of Mississippi, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the CARICOM Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), to see if we can be able to predict the Sargassum events and see what impacts they are having on fisheries productivity.”

The professor explained that research now showed that the seaweed was coming from a new source in the Amazon, and was also being reported in Venezuela and Colombia.

“When it happened in 2011, it was a new phenomenon because we had never seen this Sargassum weed coming ashore in this part of the Caribbean. [At that time], it was also happening off the West Coast of South Africa.

“In 2011, it was a huge deal, and many of the expensive resorts in Antigua and other places were closed because of the seaweed collecting in the windward bays and making swimming impossible.

“It returned this time last year, and it hasn’t really stopped since then; and we have to look at that,” Oxenford stated.

East Coast beach covered in the seaweed.
East Coast beach covered in the seaweed.
Tourists at East Coast experiencing what  it is like to walk on the Sargassum seaweed.
Tourists at East Coast experiencing what it is like to walk on the Sargassum seaweed.
Tourists having a closer look.
These tourists took up handfuls of the seaweed for a closer look.

The educator who has an extensive Caribbean research and consulting experience, stressed it was important for the public to note that Sargassum was not poisonous, and might have benefits coming along with its negative impact.

Actually, she indicated that members of the public should not be panicking about the seaweed, but being more focused on what could be done about controlling it.

“Some adaptation may be necessary . . . . It is not pollution. It has positives, as well as negatives.

“It is providing a lot of shelter and habitats for our young fish and for turtle hatchlings and for all sorts of creatures that live and take shelter under the Sargassum when it’s out in the open sea,” Oxenford suggested.

7 Responses to Pluses from Sargassum

  1. Leroy Labranch
    Leroy Labranch March 25, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    Hmm .

  2. Rosemary Parkinson March 26, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    …and it is edible if collected from the sea….and if collected, washed of most of its salt, it is an extremely good fertilizer…our land has been compromised as it is, and this would be so good for the soil. Hello? Anybody there???

  3. Edward Hutson March 26, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    If this weed originates in the Amazon can it really be classified as “seaweed”? Doesn’t it’s source determine its characteristics and the fauna for which it’s likely to provide a protective habitat? Is it likely to introduce foreign species within its floating mass?

  4. rossy March 26, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Hope this seaweed bring back sea egg and flying fish to the shores of Bim. Think positive people.

  5. Martyn Melhuish March 26, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Dear hazel, are you sure this weed is coming from the amazon?
    I think it is coming from the sargasso sea where it is normally held by ocean currents in the area known as the doldrums.I think the atlantic ocean current system-the atlantic conveyor-has changed or is breaking down due to global warming. I have been involved with commercial and sport fishing my entire working life spanning over 50 years at sea and have noticed many changes going on in the oceans and i am convinced this weed is a sign that we are going to be in serious trouble before long.Urgent research is needed as soon as possible.
    yours sincerely martyn melhuish barbados.

  6. Martin March 26, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    I take the dog for a walk every evening on the beach, and I collect a garbage bag full of seaweed each time for the compost heap. I collect it from the top of the beach, where hopefully rain has washed most of the salt out of it, and it is already decomposing nicely. If thousands of other people did the same (each time they go for a walk on the beach) it would make a wee dent in the amount washed up (not to mention improve their compost heaps enormously!). And if small businesses started collecting, bagging and selling it as fertiliser there could be serious money making possibilities in the offing.

  7. Curious March 29, 2015 at 8:57 am

    Wouldn’t it require a large amount of fresh water to process the seaweed before it can be used for fertilizer? Fresh water is a limited and precious resource in Barbados.


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