If you live in the Caribbean or have visited recently – chances are you’ve encountered Sargassum Seaweed.
This foreign seaweed has been making newspaper headlines regularly as it floats in waves across the Atlantic, piling up on Caribbean shores and wreaking havoc.
The large influx of sargassum seaweed to the Caribbean began in 2011, and since then blooms have been coming almost every year. Once on-shore, the seaweed can pile up and reach up to 22 feet in height!
But what exactly is sargassum seaweed and where does it come from?
What is Sargassum Seaweed?
Sargassum seaweed is a brown marine algae. It has a leafy appearance, with round structures that look like small berries.
There are several species of sargassum; however, only two occur in the Caribbean – Sargassum fluitans and Sargassum natans.
Where does Sargassum Seaweed come from?
Sargassum migrates to the Caribbean from the Sargasso sea in the North Atlantic Ocean, and from the Equatorial region in the North Atlantic ocean between South America and West Africa.
Water currents in these regions transport the sargassum to the Caribbean.
Importance of Sargassum at Sea
Sargassum seaweed serves a purpose, and is important at sea.
First and foremost, sargassum seaweed creates an ecosystem out on the open ocean; it provides a habitat for various marine organisms some of which are unique to the sargassum habitat.
Additionally, sargassum provides spawning areas for fish and eels as well as a nursery for sea turtle hatchlings. This attracts other marine life like dolphinfish and tuna which feed on these organisms. The presence of animal life in sargassum also makes it a foraging ground for seabirds.
Problems associated with Sargassum seaweed
Despite sargassum seaweed’s importance at sea, it can cause problems to both marine life and humans as it nears shore.
In large quantities, sargassum traps some marine life like fish and sea turtles which can result in their death. Also, when sargassum washes ashore, marine life living or trapped in it can become stranded on the beach and die.
Beaches also become less appealing to people as large influxes of sargassum wash up. The seaweed makes it difficult to access beaches and maneuver in the sea. Moreover, when sargassum begins to decompose, it releases a pungent odor similar to the smell of rotten eggs. Unfortunately, these factors affect the tourism industry in the Caribbean which depends on the region’s beautiful beaches.
Another industry affected is the fishing industry. Large blooms of sargassum in the sea are thick, and hinder fishing boats from being able to move. Therefore, fishermen are not able to go out and fish. The blooms also affect fishermen’s ability to reach the fish.
Solutions to Sargassum
Governments are using collection equipment to intercept the Sargassum both at-sea, and on land.
Along with industrial equipment, beach clean-ups have been organized to help remove sargassum from beaches.
Innovators around the Caribbean are also seeking to turn the Sargassum Seaweed into fertilizers and soaps, which can be sold and used around the islands. As they say, one person’s problem is another’s treasure!
What can you do to help?
Find innovative ways to use sargassum to help reduce the amount on beaches.
Article written by TerraMar’s Education Development Intern in Barbados – Micaela Small