Acting Deputy Chief Conservation and Fisheries Officer, Mervin Hastings has called on residents to harvest the brown floating, troublesome seaweed known as sargassum.
The marine alga which originates from the Sargasso Sea – a region in the Gyre of the North Atlantic Ocean – is known for its foul-smelling odour, which recently began affecting workers, residents, and visitors who utilise the Road Town Ferry Dock. The seaweed has also caused disruptions to the ferry service, water supply on Virgin Gorda, and has caused extensive fish-kill, as well as being a nuisance for waterfront properties and beach lovers.
But, while reminding residents of the benefits of sargassum, Hastings said persons should capitalize on the positive side of the seaweed.
He said the local farming community can utilize sargassum to add to their plants as organic fertilizer or mulch.
Organise cleanup campaigns
The Acting Deputy Chief Conservation and Fisheries Officer further urged residents and community organisations to assist with cleaning up the seaweed.
However, he said persons should wait until the seaweed is washed up on the shores and should avoid using heavy equipment which can cause damage to beach areas and other sensitive marine ecosystems.
According to a media release from the Department of Conservation and Fisheries, sargassum can also be deadly.
When in water, the seaweed is harmless but hydrogen sulfide is released when it lands on beaches and starts to decompose.
Hydrogen sulfide is a chemical compound produced by the breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen.
This colourless gas not only emits a rotten egg odour, but it is said to be ‘very poisonous, corrosive, and flammable’.
However, Hastings has assured there is no need for concern.
He said while prolonged exposure in the open may trigger eye irritation as well as respiratory problems, the gas is only harmful “in concentrated amounts in a contained space” and not in “well-ventilated” areas such as beaches.
Persons with respiratory problems, asthma patients, the elderly, babies and pregnant women are most at risk of being affected, he added.
On another note, sargassum provides a food source, home and shelter to a variety of marine species such as plants, shrimp, crabs, birds, fish, and turtles.
“Sargassum also aids in creating sand dunes which help in restoring eroded beaches and can also serve as biofuel and landfill,” Hastings said.