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Beware monster weed

Dickson Igwe

Dickson Igwe

By Dickson Igwe, contributor

Sargassum is destroying Mexico’s tourism economy. Could the monster weed do the same thing in the wider Caribbean?

The following narrative is an extract from the Washington Post of October 28, 2015, a story titled, “Mexico deploys its navy to face its latest threat: Monster seaweed”.

OK. Joshua Partlow and Gabriela Martinez writing in the Washington Post Newspaper describe how, “From Barbados to Belize, and Cancun to Tulum, a brown seaweed known as sargassum, has invaded the Caribbean basin this year.’’

The writers warn that, “Vast floating mats have washed up and buried beaches. The piles of seaweed grew more than four feet high in Antigua and forced some people to abandon their homes.’’

In Tobago, “the legislature declared a natural disaster last month, as the stench of decomposing seaweed, and the dead fish and turtles caught within it, caused nausea among tourists.’’

In fact, one Hilary Beckles, the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies called the phenomenon of the saragassum weed, “the greatest single threat to the Caribbean economy I can imagine.’’

Mexico’s Caribbean coastline attracts 10 million visitors a year. It generates 8 billion dollars in tourism related revenue annually.
In that country, the arrival of saragassum is considered a cabinet level crisis. The country’s tourism and environmental ministers have called the arrival of saragassum “a calamity.’’

José Eduardo Mariscal de la Selva is the director general of Cancun’s maritime department. He received a photo one morning in July from his beach cleaners showing the extent of the weed on the white sands and assumed it was a joke. He only realized the real extent of the disaster when he saw the beach with his own eyes.

“Beaches are what Mexico sells to the world,’’ he stated.

“Hotel guests who pay 500 Dollars a night do not want to open the shades to find paradise matted down under layers of stinking, fly-infested algae.’’

Partlow and Martinez write that, since the July invasion, Mexico has launched a herculean cleanup effort. Along the coast of Quintana Roo state, the government hired 5,000 day labourers in four-hour shifts to rake seaweed from more than 100 miles of beach.

From one popular stretch of Cancun, workers hauled off half a million cubic feet of seaweed — more than 1,000 truckloads. The federal government has budgeted 9 million dollars so far to remove the stinky mess, and hotels are expected to pay millions per month for further maintenance.

“The Mexican navy has deployed its oceanographers to track the seaweed and launched research voyages to study what provoked this arrival,” said Rear Admiral Fernando Alfonso Angli Rodriguez.

Rodriguez stated that there were proposals to buy boats and floating barriers to block the seaweed before it reached beaches. He further described how the Mexican navy was currently testing a hydraulic suck-pump that had been used in the Dominican Republic.

“The best way to collect sargassum is in the sea, before it sinks,” said Mexico’s Navy’s director general for oceanography.

The Washington Post writers instruct that this type of algae is not new to these parts. Christopher Columbus noted its abundance, and it is how the Sargasso Sea, in the north Atlantic, got its name.

In the past, it wasn’t seen as much of a nuisance, as it provides a floating habitat for turtles, fish and birds. But spikes in the growth of sargassum were recorded starting about five years ago.

This year’s “bountiful bloom’’ has baffled seaweed scientists.

Chuanmin Hu, a professor of optical oceanography at the University of South Florida, who tracks the sargassum by satellite, said that the summer of 2015 showed the largest coverage in history.

He calculated that there were 12,300 square miles of sargassum this July, about the size of Maryland, compared with 2,300 square miles four years earlier.

“It’s in the entire tropical Atlantic,” Hu said. “It’s amazing.”

Scientists have offered different theories to explain the anomaly, from climate change that has shifted ocean currents to increased runoff from farms in the Amazon into the ocean.

“What caused this?” Hu asked. “That is still a mystery.”

The lesson for the BVI in the saragassum saga is not to take the monster for granted, even though the country has not seen a crisis such as Mexico’s.

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  1. hmm.... says:

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

    all the pollution that we dump into the sea, from sewerage and nutrients… they SUPER fertilise the the sargassum as it travels the current along with the increased intensity of the sun. The earth is speaking back to us and it will soon shake us off like fleas on a dog if we dont stop beating her up the way we do.

    • And So The Guessing Game Begins says:

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Do you not understand that the seaweed FLOATS from the Sargassum Sea in the North Atlantic, to the Region by way of Ocean Currents.

      There is over 2,300 square miles of it this year, and BVI is only about 60 sq miles so this “WE” is certainly not about little BVI as a contributor of any significance.

      Remember the increased gravitational forces on the earth as the Moon came at it’s closest point to the earth in over half a century, and could have had a significant effect on currents and tides, disrupting blooms that might otherwise remained stable in their habitat.

      We simply don’t know as yet for sure, but have to work with a number of hypotheses.

  2. jules winfield says:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    the only monster weed i know is white owl mixed with sour diesel that stuff will make you choke

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