Is Sargassum hazardous to our health?

The San Pedro Sun spoke to Eric Najarro, Administrator at the Dr. Otto Rodriguez San Pedro Polyclinic II about the possibility of increased illnesses due to the Sargassum. Although Najarro stated that there is no conclusive evidence that island residents are displaying symptoms of toxicity, he cautioned that inhaling small doses of the gas can trigger irritation of the eyes, respiratory issues and nausea, especially among at-risk people. The groups at risk are asthma patients, elderly people, babies and pregnant women. Certain animals, especially dogs, are also sensitive to the inhalation of hydrogen sulfide. He further cautions to avoid swimming in Sargassum infested waters as it can lead to skin irritation.

One island resident shared that every time she’s near the beach, she starts coughing and feeling bad. “My eyes get irritated and I even get a slight headache,” she said. In addition to hydrogen sulfide causing health issues to human and animals, the poisonous gas in the air also leads to oxidation of copper, steel and other metals.

The common effects of inhaling low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide (10 ppm or less) are burning eyes, coughing and shortness of breath. Repeated or prolonged exposure at low concentration levels can cause eye inflammation, headaches, fatigue, irritability and insomnia. Exposure to moderate concentration levels of hydrogen sulfide can result in severe eye irritation, severe respiratory irritation (coughing, difficulty breathing, and fluid in lungs), headache, and nausea, vomiting, and imbalance. Effects of exposure to high levels (100 ppm or higher) of hydrogen sulfide can be serious and life-threatening with effects that include shock, convulsions, inability to breathe, rapid unconsciousness, coma, and even death.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the San Pedro Sun




How sargassum is tainting the waters close to shore on Ambergris Caye. It's accumulation has caused some dead zones as dead juvenile fish continue to be spotted along the beaches. Hoping we don't start seeing larger marine animals dying like in Florida. Already the smell of Hydrogen sulfide is a nuisance for residents. Sargassum's negative effects are widespread. We know other countries in the Caribbean have it worse. Counting our Blessings; working on possible solutions...


Huge Amounts of Sargassum Invade San Pedro’s Beaches

For the past months, Caribbean and Latin America countries have been feeling the negative effects of massive amounts of Sargassum which have washed up along the coastlines. Tons of Sargassum have covered Belize’s beaches including those in San Pedro and in Placencia. The decaying Sargassum not only releases a foul odor, but also a hydrogen sulfide gas which is known to cause harm to humans and animals when inhaled in large amounts.  The Sargassum phenomenon is causing detrimental damage to the tourism industries in the region and threatens the economies. In Belize, the Sargassum Task Force, which was formed in 2015, has been reactivated to address the issue, but before they do so, they need to understand its impact.   News Five’s Hipolito Novelo takes a closer look at the impacts of the Sargassum invasion.

Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism

 “It is a great concern. I think it is an emergency at this point.”

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

From a bird’s eye view, large mats of Sargassum can be seen being carried by the Caribbean Current en route to the coastlines of many Caribbean and Latin American Countries like Belize. The Sargassum phenomenon has been affecting the region since 2011 but recently these massive blooms of the brown microalgae have slowly crept up on pristine beaches. Tons of the seaweed have invaded the beaches of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. The unpleasant smell many describe as a ‘rotting egg smell’ and the sight of the decaying Sargassum have caused many businesses along the beach to lose customers. For Blue Marlin’s, the Sargassum is causing a detrimental economic effect on its ability to attract paying patrons.

Kevin Locario, Employee, Blue Marlin’s

“The tourist actually really complain about it because if you notice we have the verandah right there and what happens is that they sit there and they cannot enjoy the ambiance because it has a bad smell. They do not really enjoy being here and having a nice drink or having nice food or something. A lot of us have lost business because it is a small town and a lot of us are friends who own business and a lot of us have the same complaints.”

Blue Marlin’s employee Kevin Locario’s task to convince customers to stay becomes nearly impossible with the lingering stench of the dead Sargassum. English Tourist Donald Bishop says the incredible amounts of Sargassum have made his vacation experience different.

Donald Bishop, Tourist

 “It’s getting worse this time. It’s the worst I have known it.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“What’s the situation in Caye Caulker?”

Donald Bishop

“The situation in Caye Caulker is exactly the same. There is probably more there. They are trying to clean it up but it is too much.”

 

Lindsey Hackston has been operating Belizean Art, a jewelry and gift shop situated on the beach, for thirty years. Since the beginning of the year, Hackston has been burning incense to fight off the stench of the sargassum.  It has not worked and recently, Hackston realized that the toxin released in the air by the decaying Sargassum is wreaking havoc on her pieces of jewelry.

Lindsey Hackston, Owner, Belizean Art

 “The gold plated and the silver plated it actually corrodes and some of the jewelry we had to throw out. So our jewelry display has been really badly affected and our sales. A lot of it we have just stuffed in draws. We don’t even want to bring it out. You can see over there-over cabinet turned black. Even the beadwork from the indigenous Maya, some of that has turned black as well. It is terrible. I don’t know what is going to happen.”

 

Tourism Minister Manuel Heredia Junior says Belize’s tourism industry accounts for thirty-eight point eight percent of the Gross Domestic Product. The Sargassum is causing significant losses to the tourism industries across the region. In some Caribbean countries, major hotels have had to close down due to the massive amounts of Sargassum that have washed up along the beaches, transforming crystal clear waters into an unattractive, smelly and brown shade.

In 2015, A Sargassum Task Force was created to address the problem. That task force is responsible for creating a national plan and looking at regional initiatives to adapt in order to successfully implement best practices as a way to lessen the negative effects. The task force recently met to address the Sargassum problem with regional assistance.

Manuel Heredia Jr.

 “Twenty percent of that amount we got in Belize but eighty percent is in the Western Caribbean and Mexico also. That is the reason why we have to work together not only locally. I believe when we meet at the SICA level, ministers of tourism, we will have to try to see how to address this issue together with our neighbors. It is not a matter just locally but regionally to try to see what can be done. I can recall in my fishing days we did use to have the Sargassum but it was for a short time, probably three months and it was over. This year has been the worse of the worse in the history of my fishing days until now.”

As the amount of Sargassum keeps piling up on the beach, the negative effects it has on the tourism sector in San Pedro Town is mounting. In the meantime, the San Pedro Town Council has workers cleaning up the beach but this temporary and sluggish solution to the Sargassum invasion is not enough. Workers like Abdonazzer Habeb Hajjara spend about eight hours a day trying to clean up as much of the beach using pitchforks and wheelbarrows.

Abdonazzer Habeb Hajjara, Worker, San Pedro Town Council

We take it out and put it in wheel borrow and we put it into piles then we have a tractor put it in a dump truck. They take it to fill lots, properties and thing.”

Hipolito Novelo

“Is it difficult?”

Abdonazzer Habeb Hajjara

“It is not difficult but it is heavy because of the water only that when it starts to spoil it starts to think.”

Hipolito Novelo

“It stinks really badly. How do you handle it?”

Abdonazzer Habeb Hajjara

“We are already used to it.” 

Besides being foul, decaying Sargassum is toxic to humans and animals. It releases hydrogen sulfide gas and depending on the quantity inhaled, the poisonous and colorless gas can cause nausea and respiratory difficulties especially in at-risk individuals such as those who suffer from asthma. Several factors are combining to create the perfect conditions for these massive Sargasssum blooms. Large mats of Sargassum for some marine life but for others, it’s fatal. Recent fish kills in San Pedro have been attributed to the Sargassum which is known to destroy habitats for fishes, sea turtles, and birds. The Sargassum also hampers the ability of fishermen to find food. It is capable of destroying boat propellers, engines, and fishing equipment. So where is it all coming from? And what is causing it?

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator

It is a phenomenon that is occurring because of many factors; global warming, upwelling. It is actually coming all the way from the Brazilian shelf.”

Janelle Chanona, Vice President, OCEANA Belize

You have scientist finding out that the types of dispersants specifically one called Corexit that was used in the BP oil spill to have helped create a very nutrient-rich environment. You have climate change, global warming, and higher sea temperatures globally causing the sea to be warmer and therefore more conducive to these massive blooms. It’s a natural ecosystem so it is floating in seas around this part of the world. What’s happening is that because the water, the temperature, everything else is making it bloom it’s kind of coming from everywhere at the same time which is why it is getting to crisis level in many countries.” 

Many countries are looking for alternative use of the dead Sargassum. San Pedro residents are using it for landfill.

Beverly Wade

One of the things that they are looking at directly right now is landfill, composting. Some people in the region are looking to see if there are other uses for it in terms of feeds, animal feeds and things like that. But one of the biggest things that people are doing right is just using it as landfill.

San Pedro is not the only part of the country that is being affected. In Placencia the villagers have come together to address the issue. The Sargassum is causing further beach erosion in Hopkins Village and Belize City is seeing its first wave of the Sargassum assault. Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo. 

Channel 5


Placencia Villagers Battle Sargassum Invasion

Tonight we have part two of our report on Sargassum.  Aside from San Pedro, residents of the Placencia Peninsula are battling with the awful stench of decaying Sargassum that has piled up along the beaches.  Massive amounts of the Sargassum seaweed are covering miles of beach, posing a threat to the local tourism industry and the survival of many businesses that depend on the tourist dollar.  In the peninsula, beaches are eroding and the Sargassum has prompted villagers to come together to address the problem. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo reports.  

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

One of the top tourist destinations in Belize, the Placencia Peninsula sees tens of thousands of visitors every year. This year there is a threat to the local tourism industry and the livelihoods of hundreds of families who depend on tourist dollars. The threat comes in the form of a brown, foul and invasive macroalgae- Sargassum. Tons of it have washed up along the peninsula. It’s an eyesore. The decaying Sargassum reeks and it can cause health complications among humans and animals.

Jodie Yearwood Leslie, Treasurer, Placencia Village Council

“The dead Sargassum serves no purpose other than really just becoming a horrific problem for the village. The stench is horrible. It becomes toxic because the dead Sargassum puts off a gas called hydrosulfide which eventually is very dangerous because if you have anything that is made of metal, silver it turns it black in a matter of minutes. So if it is doing that then you can imagine what it is doing to our insides but our volunteers are sacrificing everything because we want our village cleaned up.”

The Sargassum is affecting the entire region. Several factors have created the perfect environment for a massive Sargassum bloom. Placencia villagers banded together earlier this month to collectively address the problem by digging a trench along the beach and dumping the dead Sargassum in as landfill.

Jodie Yearwood Leslie

They are basically pulling in the seagrass with pitchforks and buckets and shovels. They are putting it on the trench. We are then covering it back over with the sand to try to use as a landfill. We are to help the erosion by doing so. The brown Sargassum that you are seeing there as we are raking it in, there is a lot of controversies saying that you are going to disturb this; you are going to disturb that. The right of the matter is that there is nothing to be disturbed. Once the Sargassum turns that brown and is that close into shore everything in it is dead.”

As for the live Sargassum, boats and nets are being used to haul and steer it away from the peninsula.

Glen Eiley, Concern Resident, Placencia Village

We are taking old shrimp nets and we are putting on some buoys on the top and some legs on the bottom and then try to pull it beyond that island. When that happens we have a wide open area that is just going to go and end up in the gulf somewhere. We are in a pretty good geographic layout that once we move it from out shore it will then drift away.”

Massive amounts of the Sargassum are still present. The dead Sargassum is so dense that people can walk on top of it. It’s about five feet deep and causing major beach erosion.

Glen Eiley

“What is happening, the water is not breaking. It’s not lapping our shores so it does not build the sand. It comes from the underside and undermines the beach. So whenever we have a Sargassum bloom like this and piles up on our beach, we have major erosion. I am not an engineer by any trait but I was born and raised here and I have seen Sargassum all my life but never ever in my life, I would have imagined that this is what we have to contend with.”

Laurene Holcomb owns the White Horse Guest House in Hopkins Village and like many of the tourist-oriented businesses; Holcomb has been losing income due to the Sargassum invasion.

Laurene Holcomb, Owner, The White Horse Guest House 

“It is awful. The guests that come to stay with you, it was clear the other day. You can’t even tell them when it will be bad and of course, it hurts their vacation. It is a sad thing.”

Hipolito Novelo

“Do you lose business?”

Laurene Holcomb

“Yes, of course.”

Glen Eiley

“We have to come up with a long-term strategy, the entire Caribbean, the entire country. So everybody is calling on the government right now. We know that they do not have the resource to throw at everybody but if someone would come in and give us the assurances that we will stand behind you.”

Jodie Yearwood Leslie

“I have had several people leave on the boat going to Honduras. They looked at us at the BTIA office and told us that we can’t stay here. Your beaches are not good. We understand that it is not your fault but we want to go somewhere where we can swim and that is not happening here. So if we lose our tourism or the delay of our tourism right now because of this means we are losing income. If we lose income and we lose our tourist, the government, therefore, loses a good share of their income.”

Government Minister responsible for tourism, Manuel Heredia Junior recently visited the peninsula. He says that the issue will be addressed on a regional level but in the meantime, a net will be deployed at sea to stop the Sargassum from reaching the shore.

Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism

“It is a great concern. I think it is an emergency at this point. They will be putting a curtain along the stretch of the area that is being affected. It is a little expensive but together I think we can accomplish that. Or there are other ways that are looking at the alternative use of the material.”

OCEANA Vice President, Janelle Chanona says that the Sargassum has many alternative uses including in the culinary arts.

Janelle Chanona, Vice President, OCEANA Belize

“Earlier this year we saw restaurants in the Placencia community, they were putting it into food. It is a natural biological entity. They were using it in sauces and I think they were using it in breakfast dish and they use it as a sauce for dinner. Apparently, it is delicious. We have seen people using it as fertilizer. We have seen it dried out and created into protein powder to add to your shakes and different things.”

The influx of Sargassum came with an amount of garbage; plastic and styrofoam cups and plates are among the trash.

Janelle Chanona

“We need to be looking at what we are putting into the ocean because what we are putting out into the natural environment, air and sea, is causing what we are seeing. Climate change is contributing towards this, the fact that so much pollution is getting into waterways and eventually into the sea. Even here at home, we are putting things directly into the sea that in no way should be there, grey water, effluence, sewage, and everything is going into the sea. Every action has a reaction and this is nature’s reaction to say well,’ you have to deal with this now’”.

Formed in 2015, the Sargassum Task Force met recently to create a strategic plan to deal with the problem. Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.

Channel 5


From a friend in San Pedro

Microplastics are in the sargassum. It is filled with plastic that breaks down during composting into smaller microplastic pieces. It is so pervasive that it's impossible to pick out. I have composted a LOT of sargasso, not again. I have microplastics all over the garden. I would never feed this sargasso to live stock either.