Sargassum blamed for mass fish death on Ambergris Caye; Marine Environmentalists suggest solutions
The unexpected incident has been attributed to the continuous influx of Sargassum seaweed, which is not only affecting Ambergris Caye but the entire country and the Caribbean region. For months, thick mats of Sargassum have been accumulating on the eastern shore of the island, decomposing, settling on the seabed and releasing toxins that are hazardous to the surrounding marine ecosystems. Marine Biologist and Manager at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Miguel Alamilla said that even though the influx of Sargassum has slowed down, the seabed along the stretch of beach in the Boca del Rio area is full of the decomposing seaweed, giving way to eutrophication and eventually causing the death of fish. “One of the things that we can do as a community is to try to remove the Sargassum as it touches the shore,” said Alamilla. “If we can get rid of it before it starts to decompose, that can reduce the chances of another similar incident.” Alamilla pointed out that because this happened in town, it startled a lot of people. However, he doesn’t think that this issue can be narrowed down to the Boca del Rio area, as other marine life might be experiencing the same problem in other remote areas of the island.
The sight of dead bonefish caused much concern to the island’s fly fishing guides. According to well-known local fly fisherman Omar Arceo Sr., one bonefish is worth up to $800 a day, and many people from around the world come to Belize because of these protected game fish. He, along with other concerned guides, believes that if the community does not come together to tackle this problem, this industry might be one of the many tourism products that could disappear from the island.
MarAlliance, a non-governmental, non-profit organization based on the island also believes in joint community effort to resolve this problem. Executive Director Dr. Rachel Graham says that if the incident is attributed to the excess of Sargassum, then its quick removal from our shores can be a solution. She added that the collection of the seaweed as it lands ashore can been done in a way that is not detrimental to the beaches. Raking the Sargassum up by hand, placing it in barrels and then moving it into trucks, is the best solution. “There is no easy fix, but the community does need to come together and pick it up off the beaches as quickly as possible and then look at how it can be taken by barge to the mainland,” said Graham. She believes that after the seaweed is collected, the Sargassum could be used as an agriculture fertilizer after being properly processed.
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