Is Sargassum the Solution for Cheap Landfill?
Saragassum - it's piling up on beaches all across Belize by the tonne - and no one knows quite what to do with it!
In San Pedro they're using it as landfill - in a new development in an area south of San Pedro town known as the Mosquito Coast.
That's a novel idea - but being on the coast, it could also pose threats to the environment. And that's why today, we were surprised to learn that no Environmental Impact Assessment has been done, nor has an environmental compliance plan been drafted.
Area Rep, Junior Heredia spoke spoke about finding a balance between environmental conservation and the developmental needs of San Pedro's growing communities.
"I think it's the general area of the west to the Mosquito Coast area. What can you tell us about that development there? I believe there's massive clearing of Mangroves, there's filling in of the lagoon sea area with trash and Sargassum. What do you know about that development?"
Hon. Manuel Heredia - Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation
"Well I know particularly one, there is one private one that I cannot give you information on that particular one because I don't know if they applied for a permit or they went through the necessary procedures and I believe that it is for the owner of SP hardware limited. I cannot give you information; I myself was quite amazed when I saw that operation over there. And yes, Sargassum is on the abundance throughout the coastal areas of Belize and that is being used as fill to try to build it up to a certain height and after that they would put probably sand or white mall or other types of material to make it more liveable. So, that part I can tell you because it was an initiative from myself together with the government, with the permission of government, to issue those 22 lots over there. And the first 7 that were issued are practically filled with the Sargassum and you will see shortly that it will be filled with a cap of either white sand or mall."
"Did you guys clear any mangroves for those subdivisions to take place?"
Hon. Manuel Heredia
"Yes, in those areas there are parts of it that had low mangrove and then we had to clear it off."
"Did you guys get an ECP or an EIA to conduct that kind of clearing?"
Hon. Manuel Heredia
"Well you know for a small subdivision like that if there. I do not consider, as a past fisherman and as a person who has worked with a lot of resorts in San Pedro, I don't consider that massive or anything 22 lots is not a huge amount over there. So, whenever you will do massive things then. That is when you will need to do a EIA or whatever or when you will huge projects like hotels then there is need of those type of things, but for something small to be able to assist your poor residential people like that there has to be a little flexibility. When you're going to do massive yes there is a need for it but again. In life is real they say and as a country grows as a community grows there is a need for expansion and then rent on the island is expensive. So, you will have to try to accommodate your residents with some low income residential lots and remember there has to be a balance in anything. So, you have to sacrifice a little in order to provide something for your people otherwise where will you put them."
"I also know concerns about trash also being used, posing supposedly concerns for health. I know there are reports made in the newspapers out there on the island."
Hon. Manuel Heredia
"Definitely not on these ones I can guarantee you. You can take a look yourselves. Everything that they are using over there is Sargassum. So two things are happening you are cleaning your beaches because there is not a proper place to dispose of Sargassum. So, when you have these low residential areas like that, even in areas like San Juan and San Matteo and so they are using that because it is in abundance. We are a tourism destination and we cannot leave tons and tons and tons of Sargassum on the beach lying over there smelling bad. We rather take it into this place to make sure that you can assist your poor people and you can make your areas more beautiful."
Addressing the Sargassum Phenomena
Huge mats of sargassum continue to gently make its way into this region and ultimately to pristine beaches. The sight and the smell of sargassum have negatively impacted tourist hotspots in the country. The invasive brown algae is causing harm on local ecosystem. In Belize the sargassum has slowly crept on to several beaches in Placencia and San Pedro. A Sargassum Task Force was created to deal with what is expected to be an annual challenge. The Department of Environment sits on the task force and Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria says that a long term plan must be devised in order to prevent further damages to the environment and economy.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer, D.O.E
“The more temperature you have the more rich nutrients that rich the seas, that is what creates these sargassum blooms. How we go about addressing that that is a hell of a task because that is a global scenario. Right now with the “small amounts” coming on mainland Belize, even the little amounts that we are experiencing is costly, very costly, prohibited sometimes to address. Imagine what will happen five, ten years from now when temperature raises more and you have more blooms and more tons coming on stream and more frequent. Right now we have lulls. In the next ten,, twenty years if we continue the way we are these sargasssum blooms will be daily and instead of you spending a thousand dollars to clean up your side of the beach on a weekly basis it will be ten thousand dollars. We are a member of the Sargassum Task Force. We have been collaborating with them in trying to suggest solutions, do piloting with these booms that try to trap. We have to plan from now. We have experience now what we have in terms of cost for cleanup, the tides, and wind direction. Those things that we have to take into consideration and plan accordingly, set aside some funding for perhaps beach cleanup.”