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The Journey of the Sargassum #506383
08/03/15 11:50 AM
08/03/15 11:50 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 74,880
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

There is a sea on the Planet Earth which has no shores.  It is over two million square miles in size, and it is completely distinct from its surrounding waters both oceanographically and ecologically.  It supports roughly a million tons of plant life, which provides habitat for over 100 species of fish and 140 species of invertebrates, and many of them occur nowhere else.  All this teeming abundance is in waters that are so nutrient poor that visibility can be a couple hundred feet on a good day.  If not for this astonishing ecosystem, in this astonishing sea without shores, this place would be an aquatic desert.

It’s called the Sargasso Sea.  It is contained by a clockwise gyre of four different ocean currents that circle between North America, Europe and North Africa, and it is about 1,000 miles across at its widest point.  Its sea level is three feet higher than the surrounding waters, and the waters are warmer and saltier.  The foundation of the ecosystem is a remarkable seaweed called sargassum (Sargassum natans and Sargassum fluitans), a highly unusual marine algae that is completely pelagic (free drifting).   It reproduces asexually through simple fragmentation, and it can do so easily, and anywhere it goes.  Because it is pelagic, it does not have to compete for precious real estate on the ocean bottom, and it also is not limited to shallow coastal waters like the benthic (attached) seaweeds, which not only have to find some substrate to attach to, but then have to be able to grow up into some light so they can photosynthesize.  Sargassum has none of those constraints, and it grows in great mats and windrows in a sprawling, mid-ocean world where the coastlines are hundreds of miles away and the bottom is sixteen thousand feet down.  It consumes carbon and produces oxygen in huge quantities.  It has been called the golden floating rainforest of the ocean.

Sail east from anywhere in the US or west from anywhere in Europe and you’ll probably have to cross it.  Sailors have known about it for centuries, and it has broken some strong hearts when the seaweed was sighted from shipboard by early explorers, and they thought they were approaching land.

For myself, I started reading up on it because, though we’ve always gotten a little sargassum on our beaches around here, recently it’s been hitting us in huge quantities.  It’s ugly.  It’s slimy.  It puts out hydrogen sulfide gas as it decomposes and it stinks.  The tourists are not pleased.  “WTF?” my friends are all asking me—but in that quaint way we older folks have of spelling things out completely.

*          *          *          *

Sargassum on the Tulum Beach

Well, I knew this would be a tough one and I was right.  We’ve all read several articles in the popular press about this and none of them answer the question why, so I knew it wouldn’t be easy to find.  A week into it I muttered to myself that it might have been easier if I’d been looking up the meaning of life.  Then, on a whim, I did so.  It’s 42.  If you’ve read any Douglas Adams you already knew that.  But anyway, bear with me, because I did arrive at what I consider to be an answer, and getting there was a pretty good trip, not just through the life cycle of one of the most interesting seaweeds in the world, but also the amazing Sargasso Sea, the world’s ocean currents, climate change, and agricultural and urban runoff as measured in continent-fulls.

It used to be thought that the Sargasso Sea was a one-way destination for sargassum seaweed.  The model went like this:  The sargassum grows in the north-west Gulf of Mexico (they’ve always gotten some on the Texas beaches), and that was thought to be sort of its nursery.  Then the Gulf Stream current catches it and whips it around the southern tip of Florida and up the east coast of North America, and it settles out into the gyre that is the Sargasso Sea, and there the story ends.


The problem with that model is that it’s a one-way model—the sargassum goes in, and nothing comes out—and ecologists just hate one-way models.  To any ecologist with a proper reverence for the Interconnectedness of Everything (capital ‘I’, capital ‘E’), if you’re looking at a one-way system, you’ve only found half the system.  It wasn’t until last year that three Texas A&M scientists found what appears to me to be the other half.  They developed a way to identify sargassum in satellite photos.  If there is enough of it, it reflects wavelengths of light that jump right out at you if you use the right filter.  Even if there is not enough to be directly visible, its presence breaks surface tension and dampens wave motion, creating what the scientists call a “slick” on the water.  They started going through images, all the way back to the year 2000, which was the earliest year that the photos had enough resolution for this.  What they found was that every year, a weather occurrence called the Azores High Pressure System creates strong south-bound winds, and they don’t exactly disrupt this huge North Atlantic Gyre—but they jail-break a bunch of sargassum out of it.

The Sargassum Loop System

This expanded hugely the travels that we understood Sargassum to make.  When it breaks out of the gyre, it drops down through three different passages between the island nations that border the Caribbean on the north—between Cuba and Haiti, between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and between Saint Thomas and Anguilla the sargassum is blown through the passages, and it ends up in the Caribbean, where the North Equatorial Current grabs it and sweeps it west down the same gun barrel that brings us our hurricanes—right at the Yucatan.  Then the Gulf Stream grabs it and carries it around the north-east tip of the Yucatan and into the Gulf of Mexico, where some of it continues around the south tip of Florida and up the East Coast again to complete the circuit, but a lot of it eddies backwards into the north-west Gulf of Mexico, where it reproduces wildly and buries the beaches in Texas.

They’re calling it the Sargassum Loop System, and it’s recent news, cutting edge science, and a pretty big discovery, but here’s why it doesn’t answer the question my neighbors are asking me:  There seems to be nothing new about it.  As far as the scientists can tell, sargassum has been travelling this circuit all along, and it had only resulted in occasional, and not very heavy, strandings of sargassum on our beaches.

But another study got my attention, and when you put the two together you have something.

In 2011, there was a huge episode of this, and in 2012 a scientist named Johnson and a couple of colleagues did a very clever thing.  You see, scientists have software models of ocean currents.  There is more than one, and people and institutions have worked hard on them, and they’re very detailed and sophisticated, and they do a pretty good job.  And Johnson et al had historical data about where the heavy loads of sargassum were, and on what dates.  So what they did, effectively, is they dropped some virtual sargassum in their software sea at a few of those places and dates, and then ran the tape backwards.

They were amazed at where it ended up.  It wasn’t anywhere near the Caribbean, and it wasn’t anywhere near the Sargasso Sea.  It wasn’t even anywhere near the Sargassum Loop System (which actually hadn’t been discovered yet).  It was in a huge, elongated eddy that lies just above the equator and reaches all the way from South America to Africa.  It’s called the North Equatorial Recirculation Region.  While the huge Equatorial Current is taking everything west, this eddy forms above it, bounded on its north by a weak, usually seasonal current called the North Equatorial Counter Current.  This explained why there had been landfalls not just here in the Caribbean, which has always gotten some sargassum, but also in places like Brazil, and even on the coast of Africa in places like Sierra Leone, where it had never been seen before and people didn’t know what in the heck they were looking at.  And the thing about this eddy, this North Equatorial Recirculation Region, is that it’s swimming in nutrients.  It’s west end is right at the mouth of the Amazon River.  It also gets iron-rich dust blown over from Africa, and coastal upwelling off that coastline as well.  According to their software models, the sargassum stayed there for a “considerable time,” and it just loved that place.  It grew exponentially, moving in eddy-like motions and sucking up all that warmth and all those nutrients and creating masses and masses of itself—and then the counter-current broke down.  The eddy vanished, the floodgates opened, and all that sargassum started across the Caribbean toward us.

SargassumNERRSave - Copy
North Equatorial Recirculation Region

It makes sense when you think about it, because the two biggest rivers in the Americas are the Mississippi and the Amazon.  Which brings us to the subject of continental run-off.

I’ve written before about eutrophication, when I did a piece on jellyfish.  It’s a word you’ll be hearing more of, unfortunately, as we pummel this planet harder and harder, and sure enough, it figures in this story too.  Looked at simply, eutrophication is when excess nutrients wash into a body of water and mess everything up.  The first thing that happens is an algae bloom, and that could be anything from phytoplankton to sargassum, and then as that stuff dies, the decomposition process robs the water of all its oxygen, and you end up with what marine biologists call a dead zone.  This happens in big ways and small ones—I know divers who can swim down our barrier reef and tell you resort by resort whose septic systems aren’t working.  But rivers like the Mississippi and the Amazon empty entire continents of their nutrients, and that now includes fertilizers, pesticides, industrial waste and discharge from sewage treatment plants.  You can see the dead zones on Google Earth now.  Look for the little dead fish icons.  They’re courtesy of William and Mary College and the World Resources Institute (and thank you, Google, for being willing to display them!)  The second biggest dead zone in the world is in a plume running west from the mouth of the Mississippi, which is why the sargassum grows so riotously in the north-west Gulf of Mexico, and man, if you think we’ve got problems, you should see the sargassum in Texas.  They get it on a classic Texan scale.  The piles on the beaches (called wracks) can be ten feet high there, especially around Galveston.  When it comes in, they call it the golden tide.

And sargassum isn’t the only seaweed going nuts from eutrophication.  On the Brittany coast in France, they got a green tide of sea lettuce (Ulva armoricana) in 2009 that off-gassed so much hydrogen sulfide that it killed a horse and rendered its rider unconscious.  In 2011 it returned and killed thirty-six wild boars.  The sensational press coverage left everyone with the impression that the seaweed was toxic (it’s not, but hydrogen sulfide is nothing to trifle with).  The cause was clear:  factory agriculture.  Nutrients come in (in animal feed) but they don’t go out (no one returns the manure to sender), so there’s a gargantuan net increase in the nutrients in the Brittany area, and they end up in the ocean.  Measures to curtail factory farming caused layoffs, closures and protests.  The tourist industry there is 5 million dollars per year.  The agriculture industry is 11.6.  They’re still fighting.

In China, on the shores of the notoriously eutrophic Yellow Sea, the largest green tide ever recorded hit the beaches of Qingdao three weeks before the Olympics and its sailing regatta.  The Chinese rose to it in impressive fashion:  In just three weeks they removed a million tons of Ulva prolifera from the beaches in an operation that involved 10,000 people and cost thirty million dollars.  Then they put up a boom to keep the stuff out that was thirty kilometers long.

*       *       *       *

Sargassum Natans

So, the picture that’s shaping up in the mind of this amateur naturalist looks something like this:  The sargassum spends most of a year, or even more than a year, hanging out somewhere it has never been before, which is in the North Equatorial Recirculation Region, and it circles and blooms and circles and blooms. Then at some point, the countercurrent bounding it on the north dissipates, the eddying stops, and the sargassum floods out, rejoins the Sargassum Loop System and buries our beaches.  But there’s a huge question still unanswered, which, of course, is this:  How in the hell did sargassum start getting into the North Equatorial Recirculation Region?  Nobody knows.  Johnson and his team say that the causes “have not yet been elucidated,” but they suspect a link with global warming.

A voice in my head is going, I should have known.  Climate change, and eutrophication.  Both.

And they could both in theory be fixed, because the good news and the bad news here is that they’re both anthropogenic.  Anthropogenic is a scientific term meaning caused by humans.  But I prefer how the great Jimmy Buffet would put it:

It’s our own damn fault.

Now you know.


Re: The Journey of the Sargassum [Re: Marty] #506397
08/04/15 05:11 AM
08/04/15 05:11 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 74,880
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Wide Sargussum In Seas Off San Pedro

The sargassum seaweed is affecting several Caribbean islands and has been reaching Belize as well.

A natural phenomenon is affecting several Caribbean islands and has been reaching Belize as well. We are talking about the sargassum seaweed which is sweeping up along the beaches of San Pedro Island. Only yesterday, The Tobago House of Assembly, THA has deemed the sargassum seaweed invasion across Tobago a natural disaster. The problem is so big that at least three million dollars has been allotted to treat the problem which has begun affecting guest houses along Tobago’s east and west coasts as guests have cancelled reservations as a result of the seaweed. During the Belize Tourism Boards 2015 Tourism Conference on San Pedro over the weekend, officials addressed the matter as it pertains to Belize.

Re: The Journey of the Sargassum [Re: Marty] #506532
08/09/15 04:48 AM
08/09/15 04:48 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 74,880
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Sargassum linked to dead fish washing onshore

Reports from residents of Northern Ambergris Caye are that dead fish are washing onshore at the Mata Grande area. According to these residents, hundreds of dead fish line the shores, making for a most unpleasant sight (and smell) for passersby. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve was notified and they have already identified the cause of the problem: Sargassum.

According to Hol – Chan Marine Reserve manager, Miguel Alamilla, this phenomenon is due to eutrophication caused by the accumulation of the Sargasso seaweed. Sargassum is a brown microalga that floats freely on the sea and never attaches to the ocean floor. This type of seaweed provides refuge for migratory species and it is an essential habitat for some 120 species of fish and invertebrates. However, in the past months, massive quantities of Sargassum line the coast, affecting aquatic resources and even tourism.

Investigations revealed that the great influx of Sargassum on the northern beaches of Ambergris Caye, especially at low tide, has dramatically led to a faster rate in its decomposition, giving way to the mass reproduction of bacteria, which in turn causes eutrophication. This activity causes negative environmental effects such as the death of aquatic animals. Alamilla believes that this is the cause of the dead fish appearing on the northern shoreline of the island. “Due to the accumulation of decomposing Sargassum and the increase of bacteria which consumes all the oxygen in the water, the living organisms such as fish perished due to the lack of oxygen in the water,” said Alamilla.

The proper cleaning of the beach may prevent such incidents from happening; however, recent research has revealed that getting rid of the Sargassum may not be the best option. According to research, Sargassum plays a role in beach nourishment and it’s an important element of shoreline stability. It also provides food for turtles and sea birds and brings in nutrients to species along the beach.

Residents in San Pedro are making the best use of the Sargassum, tackling the unsightly and smelly situation by turning it into a beach. Every Sunday, volunteers join the team of Build-A-Beach Campaign at 10AM, at the south end of the Sir Barry Bowen Bridge and then head out north to collect the Sargassum. The seaweed is gathered, spread it on the beach to dry, and buried in holes along the beach. In this way the Sargassum is used as a landfill nourishing the beach at the same time.

Anyone interested in volunteering can meet the Build-A-Beach team at the Sir Barry Bowen Bridge every Sundays at 10AM.

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

Is Sargasso causing health issues on the island?

Sargasso has once again invaded the shores of Ambergris Caye, and island residents are concerned about the health hazards that come with it. Not only is the accumulation of seaweed unattractive, but it also produces an unpleasant smell, often compared to that of rotten eggs. In addition, residents are claiming that Sargasso is impacting their health.

According to Dr. Javier Zuniga, decayed Sargasso produces a toxic gas, which can have an effect on people’s health, especially those who are sensitive. “When the seaweed decomposes in the sea, it releases hydrogen sulfide, and produces bacteria that can result in mild skin rash or irritation. It can also cause the eyes to be irritated. The gas is colorless, and therefore, difficult to prevent from inhaling. Sensitive people are most at risk, including babies, the elderly, and those with breathing complications,” said Zuniga. He said that Sargasso only poses a health risk whenever the seaweed is damp. When the seaweed is dried, especially during the summer months, it does not release toxic gas.

Although Zuniga said that there has been no indication of increased health effects due to Sargasso at the Dr. Otto Rodriguez San Pedro Polyclinic II, one island resident Lara Goldman says otherwise. “Whenever I am in the open, and outside my house, my eyes begin to burn. It also has made my heat rash flare up, and I’ve been treating it daily with eye drops and skin creams,” said Goldman to The San Pedro Sun.

Another island resident claims that she has gotten asthma from Sargasso. Zuniga stated that it is possible for a person to get ill if they inhale the sulfide gas in unventilated areas. “The inhaled gas has the possibility to affect the person’s respiratory system. I recommend they see a doctor and be evaluated to treat their symptoms,” said Zuniga.

Beachfront residents have an additional issue. Man-made seawalls have an additional impact on the stagnation of the seaweed, as the seawalls shift the sea’s natural flow. As such, Sargasso collects in massive amounts on their beaches. After fruitless attempts to deal with the issue through government authorities, residents have had to resort to personally removing the Sargasso.

The San Pedro Town Council (SPTC) has stated that they are seeking to address the issue. Mayor Daniel Guerrero acknowledges that Sargasso contributes to beach erosion, and is an environmental risk. The unwanted seaweed is also affecting our tourism product aesthetically, and the SPTC is currently working to address the issue with the guidance of Cuban Ambassador to Belize, Lisette Perez. As Cuba has more experience in handling natural disasters and beach-related issues, Perez and Mayor Guerrero are currently preparing final plans to get rid of Sargasso by recycling it, and using it as landfill.

n addition, other entities like the Belize Tourism Industry Association, the Ministry of Tourism, the Belize Tourism Board, the Department of Environment, along with other agencies, have formed a Sargasso Task Force to reduce its negative impacts. Some of their ideas include: creating a monitoring system with geographic information system technology; issuing a pamphlet with general information on the Do’s and Don’ts of Sargasso; and are working to find specific areas, including San Pedro Town, where Sargasso can be controlled and safely disposed. The Government of Belize is also considering to support and provide assistance to the private sector by providing trucks to dispose the Sargasso.

Although a nuisance to many, Sargasso has many benefits, such as providing a food source, home and shelter to various marine life, encouraging plant growth, and is used as biofuel and land fill.

In the meantime, the SPTC, along with most businesses and resorts along the beach, continue to try and keep our beaches clean. If you would like to make a positive difference in the community, you may join The Phoenix Resort in their weekly Saturday beach clean-ups. For more information on how you can get involved, please contact them at 226-2083 or visit them on Barrier Reef Drive.

Click here to read the rest of the article in the San Pedro Sun

Re: The Journey of the Sargassum [Re: Marty] #506689
08/15/15 05:06 AM
08/15/15 05:06 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 74,880
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Sargasso Situation Causes Tourism Cancellations in Caribbean, Is Belize Next?

With the start of the region’s high tourism season a few months away, some officials are calling for an emergency meeting of the 15-nation Caribbean Community, worried that the worsening seaweed influx could become a chronic dilemma for the globe’s most tourism-dependent region.

Even though the problem is not as bad in Belize, businesses and residents are still feeling the negative effects of the seaweed that keeps on piling up. But it seems that residents on the island of Ambergris Caye are busy tackling the problem and working on solutions before the situation gets out of hand like at other locations in the Caribbean and Mexico.

While beachside businesses are keeping their beach sections clean, the San Pedro Town Council is looking at possible methods to keep public beaches clean of the never-ending Sargasso. The removal of the seaweed from the beach is being discouraged as valuable sand is also removed in the process, causing more erosion. The San Pedro Town Council is closely monitoring such operations that are clearing Sargasso piled up by their employees.

Sargassum experts say that while the sargassum washing up in normal amounts has long been good for the Caribbean, severe influxes like those seen lately are “harmful algal blooms” because they can cause fish kills, beach fouling, tourism losses and even coastal dead zones.

Whatever the reason, the massive sargassum flow is becoming a major challenge for tourism-dependent countries. It is great to see that San Pedro Town residents are taking action before the problem worsens to uncontrollable levels and starts affecting the tourism industry.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the Ambergris Today


Re: The Journey of the Sargassum [Re: Marty] #506748
08/18/15 05:02 AM
08/18/15 05:02 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 74,880
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Statement by the Caribbean Tourism Organization on the influx of sargassum seaweed

The seasonal influx of Sargassum seaweed on Caribbean beaches has got the attention of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and tourism policymakers and practitioners across the region.

Sargassum is a natural occurrence believed to originate in the Sargasso Sea, a two million-square-mile body of warm water in the north Atlantic near Bermuda, although some scientists believe the current influx was brought into the Eastern Caribbean through the North Brazil Current and because it thrives in warm, nutrient-rich water, the Sargassum simply spreads throughout the region.

It is an unwelcome visitor which can be uncomfortable and which takes away from the beach experience for our guests.

The CTO and our Caribbean partners are treating this matter seriously and with urgency. We have engaged a number of regional and international institutions in our attempts at finding solutions, among them, universities.

A number of theories have been advanced as to the cause of the latest influx, and myriad suggestions put forward for tackling the issue. We will be participating in a symposium being led by the University of the West Indies (UWI) next Monday, August 17th “to crystallize these myriad ideas and theories into workable solutions that can be implemented immediately to address our situation.” We are optimistic that meaningful solutions will emerge.

Among our CTO member-countries the issue differs significantly from one set of circumstances to another, as does the level of the incursion. Even in destinations which are at risk, not all beaches have been affected; in some cases it’s just on the windward coast and not the leeward.

But many seem to agree that what’s needed is a deeper understanding of how to tackle the issue collaboratively, with key stakeholders, public- and private-sector, contributing to the discussion. This is what the CTO is encouraging; this is what we are involved.

The Caribbean has countless attributes which makes our region a most desirable holiday destination. Our history, culture, cuisine, music, hiking, diving, bird-watching, festivals, etc, all make for unforgettable experiences. However, for most of our members, the beach is an integral part of this experience, the pristine nature of which we are proud. We are aware that the influx of sargassum can impact this aspect of our product and we will be at the centre of efforts to find a regional solution.

Re: The Journey of the Sargassum [Re: Marty] #506877
08/24/15 04:46 AM
08/24/15 04:46 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 74,880
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

All that weed…

No, I mean the other sort. Smells worse, and just as much trouble. Piles of brown stinking seaweed, sometimes six feet deep, rot on beaches from Barbados to Belize.

“I don’t think it will affect the tourism in Tobago,” said Tourism Minister Gerald Hadeed this month. 

UWI Vice-Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles disagrees. Last Monday, he called sargassum “the greatest single threat to the Caribbean economy I can imagine.” He wants a Sargassum Emergency Agency.

Sun, sand, sea and sargassum? Island economies depend arms, legs and neck on tourism.

But Hadeed says Tobago “is not only the beaches…it is so beautiful and friendly.”

Yes, up to a point. There’s more to life than beaches. Scuba diving, for starters. But stink up the beaches, and you have trouble. If in doubt, check TripAdvisor.

It’s not just the tourists. Fishing boats can’t work in sargassum-choked seas. Corals are smothered. Bacteria from decaying seaweed grab oxygen, leaving little for other life. Seafront residents complain of asthma attacks. 

Sargassum has its fans. It’s “a golden rain forest of the sea,” says Hazel Oxenford, fisheries professor at UWI’s Cave Hill campus. 

Sargassum provides food and shelter for young flying fish, turtle hatchlings, a whole food web. Ten fish species live only in sargassum, among them the cleverly-camouflaged frogfish, which looks like a scrap of seaweed. Onshore, sargassum stabilises beach sand.

There are a hundred-plus types of sea-bed sargassum. Two Atlantic species—natans and fluitans—are different. They spend their entire life cycle afloat. 

Their tangled mats terrified Columbus and his sailors in the Sargasso Sea.

Today, it’s regional tourism chiefs who have the wobblies.

The sargassum explosion started in 2011. Why?

In normal times, floating sargassum has an annual cycle, following nutrient-rich waters from the Gulf of Mexico to seas around Bermuda.

The recent outbreaks are different. Mats form in equatorial waters, between Brazil and Nigeria. From there, sargassum drifts to the Caribbean in teardrop-shaped concentrations, half-a-mile across and maybe four miles long.

If one of those hits your beaches, you’re in trouble. 

In Barbados, they mess up the scenic east coast and the mid-budget south. 

The glitzy west coast, naturally, is just fine.

In Belize, all beaches face east. They have real trouble.

So, why this southern sargassum? The science is not yet clear. But climate change has warmed the sea surface. Replacing rain forest with agriculture has increased the nutrient inflow from the Amazon. 

Years back, I remember teams of steadfast women employed in Barbados to rake up seaweed, and bury it manually on the beach. That was environment-friendly job creation.

Today, some hoteliers panic, using heavy construction equipment to remove sargassum. Machines lack the delicate touch. They scoop up precious beach sand too.

UWI’s Barbados campus organised a sargassum seminar last Monday. Government ministers from three countries turned up. The host country has a well-focussed Coastal Zone Management Unit.

Sue Springer of Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association spoke bravely of turning negatives into positives. She spoke of bussing guests from south coast hotels to the west coast—which sounds fine, until you’ve met Bajan peak-hour traffic. 

Says Springer: “When there’s a hurricane, we have a hurricane plan. We need to have a sargassum plan.” 

Weather watchers last week tracked Hurricane Danny as it moved west. Texas A&M University is now developing a satellite-based early warning system for sargassum.

Julian Francis, St Vincent’s junior works minister, wants to reap the stuff before it hits shore; a 300-metre boom costs around US$80,000. 

Seaweed has a host of uses. For the Japanese it’s a foodstuff. Dried out, it can be fuel or fertiliser. 

It can make pharmaceuticals, or MDF for construction. An ounce of Estée Lauder’s seaweed-based Crème de Mer was selling for US$110 a decade ago.

But as with most Caribbean manufacturing, there are snags. 

There’s way too much sargassum for the beaches—but we do not have the year-round multi-tonne supply needed for volume manufacturing. Nor do we want low-cost but destructive mechanical harvesting.

Niche products by contrast use tiny volumes which won’t clear the beaches; and their edge is in branding and packaging, not the weed.

We have a crisis. And not just in Tobago.

Trinidad & Tobago Guardian

Re: The Journey of the Sargassum [Re: Marty] #506881
08/24/15 07:12 AM
08/24/15 07:12 AM
Joined: Dec 2006
Posts: 13,213
San Pedro Belize
elbert Offline
elbert  Offline
Oh gloom and doom. It seems to me Global Warming is an easy answer for anything nowadays. People get a pimple on their butt and shout 'Global Warming!
I'm hoping our first big storm of this season will be a quick fix for the sargassum on the beaches.
Danny has just entered the Caribbean basin, lets see what happens. Hopefully it will be strong enough to flush this out.

White Sands Dive Shop
Re: The Journey of the Sargassum [Re: Marty] #507076
09/01/15 05:53 AM
09/01/15 05:53 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 74,880
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Click photos for more pictures!

Prototype of ship to collect sargassum in Quintana Roo. One of the functions is to give use as compost and avoid that it gets to the edge of the beach.

What is Beach Seaweed?

beach seaweed above water

Beach Seaweed is a natural phenomenon

Beach seaweed has been problematic this year, but don’t stress if you are expecting travel to the south. Some of the white sand beaches and crystal clear waters of the Caribbean are darkening with an influx of decaying sargassum.

Brown-coloured seaweed, with small pods attached – also known as sargassum – are washing up on many beaches in Mexico, as far north as the Dominican Republic, and the eastern shores of Barbados, and reportedly smelling like rotten eggs. The decay and rate of sea weed found on the beaches has been so bad in recent years it has become a global issue, being blamed for everything from Rhode Island’s explosions in the sand to disrupting beach developments in West Australia. Sargasasum is a real nuisance this year, and has been a growing problem since 2011.

The Associated Press reported officials calling for an emergency meeting of the 15-nation Caribbean Community and the impact this beach seaweed may have on tourism in the coming months. The costs associated with removing the seaweed are high, and even when the seaweed is cleaned up, the smell can still remain. So what is the takeaway from this news? Is this a natural disaster or an inconvenient part of the natural cycle of ocean life?

Mexican authorities have told the CBC that they will hire over 4,000 temporary workers and spend close to $9.1 million to clean up beach seaweed along the coast, as well as research methods to collect sargassum before it hits the sand.

Here is what you need to know about seaweed in the Caribbean.

Why does beach seaweed wash up?

Sargassum grows and floats in open water in the mid-North Atlantic Ocean, called the Sargasso Sea. This long, stringy seaweed plays an integral role in ocean life, often a great nursery for sea turtles and other marine life. Small amounts of this washed up seaweed appear naturally every year from currents and the natural flow of the ocean, but scientists are unclear about why so much is burying the white sands of the Caribbean this year.

underwater seaweed

Marine life relies on sea weed for shelter and as a source of food.

Some researchers are suggesting rising ocean temperatures and climate change are to blame, while others blame an increase of pollutants and nutrients from the Amazon interacting with the warmer waters.

Since sargassum is a breeding ground for marine life, when it washes ashore, that life dies, causing a chemical reaction and a rotting smell. The beached seaweed in the Caribbean then becomes a breeding ground for sand fleas.

Beach seaweed alert! What does this mean for my trip?

There has been no official declaration of natural disaster or issue regarding visiting the Caribbean islands affected by the Caribbean and Mexico seaweed problem. WestJet has released an advisory, stating hotels along affected beaches are using a range of methods in cleaning up their beachfront properties, but states that some activities in destination may be limited due to the lack of waterfront property and mounds of seaweed. The washing up of seaweed in the Caribbean does not affect all islands, or all beaches on the affected islands, at the same time. To date, the problem has been seen in Barbados, Tobago, the Dominican Republic, and the highest amounts of washed up seaweed have been seen at Mexico resorts.

underwater seaweed

Marine life camouflage in seaweed to avoid predators

Should I cancel holidays or delay booking because of beach seaweed?

The influx of sargassum on beaches is considered a “force majeure,” meaning it’s weather-related and can not be fixed or changed. Seaweed in the Caribbean is a natural phenomenon that occurs annually, but this year, it is happening at a much faster pace and quantity. Since there is no advisory in place, regular terms and conditions regarding cancelling trips, with any applicable fees at the hand of the traveller.

The travel agents at have not yet received major complaints from clients, however, we are doing our best to keep agents aware of the issues. For travellers looking to book a vacation, we recommend proceeding with your plans, with the understanding that your vacation will still be safe and can include pool-side sunshine. Hotels in the affected areas are working to clean up the beaches, to allow for beach-goers to fully enjoy their vacations. With ocean currents and changes in the wind, the seaweed in the Caribbean is regularly changing course; meaning one resort could be affected one day, and not the next; the issue can move further down the beach.

beach seaweed

Underwater seaweed keeping the ocean happy

How does sargassum affect the environment?

Sargassum can cause a large mat of algae that blocks sunlight for coral reefs, as well as settling out over coral life and smothering the reefs. Baby turtles may have difficulty hatching and getting through the the thickness of the seaweed, causing issues for hatch-lings. Positive uses of the Sargassum seaweed can be used as a bio stimulant to promote and enhance growth in plants. This includes organic mulch, organic fertilizer, animal feed and other uses in Caribbean agriculture. The seaweed is not limited to a tourism issue, and contributes to recreational usage by the residents that are dealing with this issue locally. Cleaning the beaches can potentially hurt the organic life that relies on the seaweed and is not just an issue for tourism in the Caribbean islands.

Beach seaweed is everywhere! When will it be cleaned up?

Unfortunately, we don’t know. Hotel and resort staff where the surge of seaweed is washing ashore are working to clear this, although due to marine life, machinery is not being used to protect the beach and not disrupt vacationers. Travellers should be advised that although this is an inconvenience, it is out of your travel agent or tour operator’s control and is being acknowledged and worked on in the affected areas.

Remember that beach seaweed is a natural occurrence, and despite the minor disruptions that come with the smell of the sand, there are still many ways to enjoy a vacation. Utilize the resources at the resorts, enjoy the comforts of the pool and don’t let this natural phenomenon distract you from having a great vacation. The seaweed provides shelter and nourishment for marine life.

seaweed shelter

Beach Seaweed provides shelter for marine life.

Beach Seaweed resources and videos:

If you’re interested in learning more about sargassum, its effects on the environment and possible benefits such as fertilizer, here are some resources for further reading and research:




Sargazo seguirá llegando, advierten especialistas
Interesting article on Sargassum. Realizan en Cancún el Simposio sobre Ecosistemas Marinos de América Latina y el Caribe, donde hablan del arribo atípico del sargazo. Los destinos del Caribe Mexicano tendrán que lidiar permanentemente con el arribo masivo de sargazo en sus costas, pues el fenómeno seguirá presente, de acuerdo con especialistas del Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN), participantes en el Simposio sobre Ecosistemas Marinos de América Latina y el Caribe, efectuado en Cancún. El evento reúne a más de 50 investigadores provenientes de México, Estados Unidos, Argentina, Venezuela, Brasil, Perú, Francia e India, así como a expertos de la NASA, de la National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Educación, la Ciencia y la Cultura (UNESCO, por sus siglas en Inglés); de las universidades Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) y Autónoma de Baja California. Los temas abordados versan sobre la pesca, la contaminación y la salud del ecosistema marino, la gobernanza, la economía, la productividad y el arribo atípico del sargazo, fenómeno que ha cambiado el paisaje azul de la zona costera del Caribe, al tornarlo color ocre, con fuertes impactos para el Turismo y diversas especies del ecosistema costero, como la tortuga marina, los arrecifes de coral, la playa e incluso el tiburón ballena. El investigador del Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas del IPN en Baja California, Francisco Arreguín Sánchez, indicó que las tendencias “parecen indicar” que la llegada masiva de sargazo –una especie de macro alga parda- proseguirá en El Caribe, lo que implica que el fenómeno debe ser documentado para elaborar modelos predictivos a corto plazo que permiten contar con opciones de prevención.

Re: The Journey of the Sargassum [Re: Marty] #508227
10/13/15 05:04 AM
10/13/15 05:04 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 74,880
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

The beach at the Rosewood Mayakoba on the Riviera Maya before and after a SurfRake machine cleanup.

Caribbean, Mexico fighting sargassum with heavy-duty machines

Two companies, one U.S.-based and the other French, recently found themselves in the front lines in the battle to rid beaches of sargassum, the stinky, brown, ugly masses of floating seaweed that are carpeting the shorelines of popular destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Sargassum shows up every year, but this summer’s onslaught is the largest on record, leading Brian Lapointe, a professor and oceanographer with Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, to declare it “the worst year ever. I’d say we’ve hit a crisis level.”

That makes it a good year for Connecticut-based H. Barber & Sons, which has manufactured beach-cleaning equipment since 1966, and CDO Innov, a French company that manufactures industrial equipment used for environmental issues.

Sargassum presents several challenges as well as a rotten-eggs odor. On many beaches, the stuff washes up with every tide. Workers can rake it and remove it in the morning, only to have it return on the next tide, pushed along by ocean currents and winds.

It also poses a major disposal problem.

Chris Kelly, director of sales and marketing for H. Barber & Sons, outlined some scenarios for getting rid of the muck, but he admitted that “none are perfect.”

The SurfRake in action.

“Disposal depends on where the beach is located,” Kelly said. “In Galveston, where they had catastrophic amounts of sargassum in 2014, they’d stockpile it on a remote part of the beach far from sunbathers and swimmers, let it dry out and decompose and then use it to build up the dunes. The problem with that is that it attracts flies and insects, and it stinks. Some places use it for fertilizer or mulch, but many times it ends up going to a landfill.”

He was on site in Guadeloupe two weeks ago, training workers to use his company’s patented Surf Rake machine, first manufactured in 1966 and redesigned in 2010.

“This machine picks up 95% of the sargassum and other algae on a beach,” he said. “It does not pick up the surrounding wet sand, so the beach is not being eroded. It’s not a complicated machine to operate, but it does require initial training.”

H. Barber & Sons’ rakes have been the go-to solution for several big resorts in the Yucatan, whose beaches have been plagued by sargassum this year.

“There are 50 Surf Rakes in operation in the Yucatan,” Kelly said. “Some of the bigger resorts buy them outright. Others are bought by contractors that the resorts and municipalities hire to clean up the beaches. Each machine is $65,000, so it’s a big investment.”

Among the resorts in Cancun and the Riviera Maya that have the Surf Rake in their seaweed-cleanup arsenal are the Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort, Mayan Palace Riviera Maya, Grand Palladium Riviera Resort & Spa, Grand Riviera Princess, Viva Wyndham Maya and three resorts in the Mayakoba complex: Banyan Tree Hotel & Resort, Fairmont Mayakoba and Rosewood Mayakoba.

Some of the smaller Caribbean islands, like Guadeloupe and Martinique, depend upon contractors who own the machines to clean the beaches.

“Tourists expect clean beaches, so it’s not a problem that can be ignored,” Kelly said.

He estimated that there are more than 1,000 Surf Rake machines in operation around the world.

His chief competitor is CDO Innov, a company headquartered in Machecoul, a small town in western France. One of its solutions is an amphibious vehicle called AMP, which can execute many tasks, including collecting mounds of seaweed on the beach, at the waterfront and in the sea.

The vehicle has a suction nozzle connected to a high-capacity pumping system.

To develop AMP, CDO Innov partnered with another French company, Thomsea, a leader in marine spill equipment and the inventor of the engine-driven seaweed action pump.

“The solution is very effective and can collect 25 tons of seaweed per hour,” said Guillaume Amiand, marketing communications officer, who added that the AMP system is designed to collect sargassum without destroying native flora and fauna.

CEO Cyril Thabard said, “The testing we have done guarantees that any living creature sucked up with our system [i.e. shrimp, eels or fish] emerges alive and well. Our machines also do not damage the turtles’ nests on the beaches.”

Once the sargassum is collected, it goes to recycling centers; it can be used to make plastic bags, clothing, paper and fertilizer.

“We live in the west of France in Brittany,” Thabard said. “And we’ve been recycling green seaweed for quite a while, so we are at the cutting edge of technology due to the involvement of many science labs in the area.”

Like H. Barber & Sons, CDO Innov has been marketing its solutions to several resorts and destinations in the Caribbean. Its machines start at $50,000 each, and the company said that training is imperative to guarantee the machine’s best performance.

CDO Innov executives said they are currently in talks with resorts in the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Belize about purchases of the AMP, which is already in use in Guyana and Brazil.

Not every resort or destination is looking to heavy equipment to fix the problem. Dreams Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa recently staged its own cleanup initiative involving teams of employees who competed to collect and remove the most seaweed from the resort’s beach, with cash prizes going to the top three teams. The resort reported that over the past three weeks, more than 23 tons of the weeds and resulting muck were collected and removed.

Re: The Journey of the Sargassum [Re: Marty] #508697
10/30/15 05:35 AM
10/30/15 05:35 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 74,880
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Mexico deploys its navy to face its latest threat: Monster seaweed

Seaweed invades Mexico's coast

The country has launched a massive cleanup effort to combat the piles of algae washing up on its popular Caribbean beaches.

CANCUN, Mexico — Surrounded by a four-man camera crew, the Japanese honeymooners were ready to make memories.

In their wedding whites against the turquoise Caribbean waters, the couple leapt off the beach and kicked their heels. Then they whipped out matching sombreros and unfurled a giant Mexican flag. Their photo shoot was perfect, if you could ignore the smelly strip of brown algae fouling the white sands.

“It’s disgusting,” photographer Juan Manuel Delgado said. “I’ve worked on the beaches for 21 years, and this is something that has never happened before.”

From Barbados to Belize, Cancun to Tulum, a viny brown seaweed known as sargassum has invaded the Caribbean basin this year. 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. Tobago’s 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. Hilary Beckles, the vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, called it “the greatest single threat to the Caribbean economy I can imagine.”

“It’s been horrendous,” said David Freestone, executive secretary of the Sargasso Sea Commission.

For Mexico, whose Caribbean coastline attracts more than 10 million visitors and generates $8 billion in tourism-related revenue a year, the arrival of sargassum became a cabinet-level crisis. When José Eduardo Mariscal de la Selva, the director general of Cancun’s maritime department, received a photo one morning in July from his beach cleaners, he assumed it was a joke. Within days, the country’s tourism and environment ministers were touring Cancun to assess the calamity.

Mexico’s tourism industry is like an aging gladiator, having battled swine flu outbreaks, drug-war violence and intense storms over the past decade — including Hurricane Patricia, which sent sunbathers fleeing the Pacific coast last week. Now, some local authorities question whether seaweed might strike the fatal blow.

“Beaches are what we sell to the whole world and what we depend on, directly or indirectly, for all our income,” Mariscal said. And hotel guests paying $500 a night do not want to open the shades to find paradise matted down under layers of stinking, fly-infested algae.

Since the July invasion, Mexico has launched a herculean cleanup effort. Along the coast of Quintana Roo state, the government hired 5,000 day laborers in four-hour shifts to rake seaweed from more than 100 miles of beaches.

From one popular stretch of Cancun, workers hauled off half a million cubic feet of seaweed — more than 1,000 truckloads, Mariscal said. Cancun gave local boozers the chance to leave the town drunk tank early if they put in time on the seaweed chain-gangs. The federal government has budgeted $9 million 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 Adm. Fernando Alfonso Angli Rodriguez. There are proposals to buy boats and floating barriers to block the seaweed before it reaches the beaches. And the navy is currently testing a hydraulic suck-pump that has been used in the Dominican Republic.

“The best way to collect sargassum is in the sea, before it sinks,” said Angli, the navy’s director general for oceanography. “We are working on this very hard.”

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.”

Seaweed is piled up on the beach of Akumal, a tourist town south of Cancun, in October. The Caribbean coast of Mexico has had a surge in seaweed that has hurt the tourism industry.

Along the most popular Cancun tourist beaches, authorities have now fought the sargassum to a draw, particularly as the amount washing up has eased up in recent weeks. But farther south, in places such as Akumal, Tulum and Mahahual, visitors who come for Mayan ruins and tropical beaches still have to deal with festering piles of seaweed.

“I don’t mind it so much,” Stefano Bilosi, a 29-year-old Italian honeymooner in Akumal, sunbathing next to a musky thatch of seaweed, was saying when his new wife, Federica Brentaro, interjected.

“I don’t like the stuff,” she said.

“She didn’t swim,” he admitted.

“No,” she said.

Down the beach, Simone Backhausen, a 25-year-old Australian veterinary nurse, took a more holistic view.

“I enjoy it. It’s part of the ocean. It doesn’t hurt you or anything; it doesn’t sting you,” she said. “You just get through it, and you get over it. It’s not a big deal, I don’t think. That’s coming from a backpacker’s point of view.”

The frantic cleanup has now prompted its own backlash, as environmental groups protest the use of backhoes and bulldozers to move seaweed mountains. The Mexican Center for Environmental Rights said hotels’ reliance on heavy machinery and shoreline netting is causing damage to species that frequent the beach. Alejandra Serrano Pavón, a regional director, has collected photographs of dead sea turtles.

Authorities say that the collected sargassum can be used to fortify sand dunes and be reprocessed into fertilizers for public parks and gardens. But those silver linings don’t mean much to the average Mexican hotel owner.

“The cruises are going to arrive in October, and the tourists are not going to want to set one foot in this town because of the pestilence here,” said Cristobal Aguilar, who runs the Hotel Arenas in Mahahual, farther south along the coast. His hotel is offering 25 percent discounts to attract customers willing to ignore the vegetative stench.

“Things are very bad here,” he said.

Washington Post

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