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Gov’t announces return of Sargassum Seaweed

The government has announced that the seasonal floating weed, known as Sargassum Seaweed, has returned and has “increased in indefinite amounts”.

The floating brown seaweed is a marine algae that originates from the Sargasso Sea, which is a region in the Gyre of the North Atlantic Ocean.

The return brings back memories of wide-spread challenges the seaweed posed throughout the Territory especially over the last two years – including widespread fish-kill, protracted disruption in water supply on Virgin Gorda, and temporary closure of the Dolphin Discovery attraction located at Prospect Reef.

The government, from as far back as 2015, promised to acquire a purpose-built machine to remove seaweed from the Territory’s shores. But Minister of Natural Resources and Labour Dr Kedrick Pickering later said the ‘machine’ plan was no longer a viable option, adding that the floating masses of seaweed were spawning grounds for many species of fish.

Dr Pickering also announced that a portion of the seaweed had been collected for use in the agriculture industry.

Fast-forward to now, May 10, 2017. The government has issued a media release, in which it announced the return of the Sargassum Seaweed, and informed the public that the said seaweed has both advantages and disadvantages.

The acting deputy chief conservation and fisheries officer, Mervin Hastings, explained: “The disadvantage is that there is typically an offensive smell which may resemble that of rotting eggs, given off by the decaying seaweed. This is the chemical hydrogen sulphide which may be an irritant to sensitive persons, who should avoid close contact.”

Hastings further explained that, on the other hand, the Sargassum Seaweed provides a floating nursery for ample wildlife – similar to a mangrove system. Seaweed also helps to restore or build back beaches, in turn creating greater coastal protection and storm resilience.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour, along with the Conservation and Fisheries Department, has cautioned persons against collecting the seaweed while it is still afloat in the ocean.

“Persons and communities, who are interested in cleaning coastal areas that may have large amounts of seaweed, are asked to wait two to three weeks before doing so, to allow for marine life – especially crabs and turtles – to depart the weed before full decay [of the weed].”

The government further noted that Sargassum Seaweed is found on beaches and shorelines throughout tropical areas worldwide, and undergoes seasonal cycles of growth and decay due to changes in sea temperature probably attributed to climate change.

“The seaweed, once collected, can be made into compost when the salt has been washed out or sent to the incinerator for disposal,” the government further said.

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