Happy to know the council is taking steps to try and replicate what is being done in Mexico as a more sustainable way of collecting and use the microalgae that keeps washing up on our beaches.
The war against Sargassum
For years, Central America and the Caribbean have been plagued by the presence of the dreaded Sargassum. This brown algae first started affecting Belize on the coast of San Pedro, creating a foul odor as it accumulates and rots at the water’s edge.
Since as far back as 2015, reports have made it to the public about the Sargassum’s rapid spread to other areas such as Caye Caulker, Hopkins and Placencia. In neighboring countries the phenomenon has grown to alarming levels and destinations such Quintana Roo have even declared the situation to be an imminent natural disaster.
The main concern regarding the continuous spread of the algae is the potential effects it may have on Belize’s tourism industry. Despite there not being a confirmed, quantified impact on tourism arrivals and length of stay as a result of the presence of Sargassum, it is still a concern that eventually it may become too much for visitors who come to Belize to enjoy clean beaches and crystalline waters.
Cabinet has taken into consideration the potential threats to hoteliers with sea-front properties and even introduced some relief measures, such as the 4-month hotel tax relief for all beach-front hoteliers, which took effect at the end of 2018.
Other initiatives such as the ongoing beach cleanup projects have been implemented in various tourist hotspots and the government has designated over $1 million to aid these projects. There have even been tariff (duty) exemptions approved by Cabinet for all equipment being imported for Sargassum clean-up and reduction initiatives.
Collectively, these assistance measures by the government have benefited hundreds of property owners in the affected areas. There are other entities as well which have made contributions to contain the spread of the Sargassum such as the Sargassum Task Force, NEMO, BTB and even the National Meteorological Service of Belize.
The task force is trying to incorporate technology in their fight against Sargassum, and have provided small insights on their intentions to stage a Boom Installation Pilot Test in San Pedro to see if this would be effective in reducing the effects of the Sargassum.
A containment boom is a temporary floating barrier normally used to contain an oil spill, which protects shorelines from pollution. The Sargassum Task Force, in collaboration with the National Met Services and the Department of Civil Aviation, is tasked to study the drift patterns of the Sargassum in order to create a forecasting system in Belize.
Reports are currently being disseminated every Wednesday to Friday during the local weather forecast on the news. Further development of this project could lead to Belize being the first nation in this region to have a local Sargassum forecasting system.
The abundance of the algae has negative effects on both aquatic animals and plants. The death of fish has been noticed on the beaches of San Pedro, caused by the reduction of oxygen levels due to the bacteria that decompose the Sargassum in the water.
There is also a reduction of sunlight penetrating the water due to the canopy that these blankets of Sargassum cause, affecting the process of photosynthesis for aquatic plants and coral. Apart from this, Sargassum has been known to cause a foul odor and skin irritations when one becomes directly exposed to it.
The National Sargassum Task Force was established to find solutions to the current problem of the sargassum in the Tourism industry. We spoke to representatives about sargassum and the disposal measures they are working on to remove the inconvenience to hoteliers and beach-goers. On our couch: Abil Castaneda - Chief Tourism Officer, Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation John M. Burgos - Executive Director, BTIA
Re: The Journey of the Sargassum
#537143 07/05/1904:53 AM07/05/1904:53 AM
Scientists found a seaweed patch stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Africa
Fertilizer runoff is likely fueling an explosion of seaweed in the Atlantic.
There’s a mass of seaweed in the Atlantic Ocean that last year, at its peak, was so large it stretched all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to West Africa. It’s the biggest bloom of seaweed ever recorded, according to a new paper published in Science. And it’s likely another example of how human activity is radically changing the surface of the planet.
The giant seaweed mass is both expansive and heavy, weighing a whopping 20 million tons last year. It’s comprised of a macroalgae species called sargassum, a brown seaweed that forms little bubbles that look a bit like grapes. Large volumes of it washing ashore can be a pain for beach tourism.
Those bubbles allow the seaweed to float on the surface, which in turn lets scientists track its distribution over time. The brown hue of the seaweed on the surface of the water can be seen by satellites.
Satellite images have revealed that over the past 20 years, the mass of sargassum on the surface of the Atlantic has exploded dramatically. The following chart shows the density of sargassum in the Atlantic every July (the month when sargassum blooms peak) from 2011 on. You can see in July 2018, it was the densest, stretching clear across the ocean.
The study authors call it the great Atlantic Sargassum belt, and suspect it’s likely the result of more nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, running off the West Africa coast into the ocean in the winter. The belt is also being fed by the same nutrients, from fertilizer runoff and deforestation, running off into the Amazon River and into the ocean in the summer.
The sargassum responds to those extra nutrients like many plants would: It eats them, and grows. The bloom sizes also continue to grow every year because there are sargassum seeds left over from the previous summer.
So far, it’s looking like another huge Sargassum bloom is underway this summer. Many beaches in Mexico are currently blanketed in the stuff. (It costs Mexico’s beaches millions a year to deal with the increasing growth of the seaweed.)
The seaweed, historically, has been mostly confined to the Gulf of Mexico and a region of the Atlantic called, well, the Sargasso Sea. It’s a region encircled by ocean currents which keeps its ecosystem a bit separated from the rest of the Atlantic.
And the sargassum is an important component of that ecosystem, as NOAA notes:
Turtles use sargassum mats as nurseries where hatchlings have food and shelter. Sargassum also provides essential habitat for shrimp, crab, fish, and other marine species that have adapted specifically to this floating algae. The Sargasso Sea is a spawning site for threatened and endangered eels, as well as white marlin, porbeagle shark, and dolphinfish. Humpback whales annually migrate through the Sargasso Sea. Commercial fish, such as tuna, and birds also migrate through the Sargasso Sea and depend on it for food.
But it started to spread around 2011, especially in the central Atlantic, with the uptick of nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into the ocean from South America and West Africa.
The new excess of sargassum is not a good thing. It floats onshore, rots, and smells like sulfur, making it a pain for beach tourism in the Caribbean and in Mexico. When it dies in the ocean, it can sink, and possibly harm corals. Dense groves of sargassum can also trap and harm sea turtles.
“The ocean’s chemistry must have changed in order for the blooms to get so out of hand,” Chuanmin Hu, a University of South Florida marine scientist who led the Science study, said in a press statement.
In a lot of ways, this story isn’t unique. In many, many waterways — including lakes used for drinking water — fertilizer runoff induces incredibly large blooms of (often toxic) algae. Last year, a “Red Tide” bloom of algae killed at least a hundred manatees, a dozen dolphins, thousands of fish, and 300 sea turtles off the coast of Florida. It was all the result of an algae called Karenia brevis growing in mass and releasing a neurotoxin.
In 2015, a toxic bloom of blue-green algae in Lake Erie left half a million people without drinking water. In the Gulf of Mexico, runoff from the Mississippi River often leaves “dead zones” — where, ironically, a boom in algae growth sucks up all the oxygen in the water and everything, including the algae, have to flee or die.
The bottom line: More and more of our refuse is getting into the ocean, and other waterways. And it’s leaving a huge mark.
The Mexican Caribbean: 2,000 rooms emptier today than a year ago
The Mexican Caribbean shows this 2019 an average of 2,000 occupied hotel rooms less than in the same period last year. According to Jorge Hernandez, president of the Mexican Federation of Tourist Associations (Fematur), the main destinations of Quintana Roo have recorded a drop in hotel occupancy of between 2 and 4.8 percentage points, which means an amount of between 1,000 and 2,000 rooms less. Hoteliers have already lowered prices by up to 25% to try to maintain last year’s occupancy levels. However, it seems that the idea is not yielding the expected results.
As for sargasso, the main problem that is hitting the tourism industry in the country, Vanegas denies that the scenario is a “tourist catastrophe” and says that this year the state government expects to collect up to one million tons of this seaweed, 100% more than in 2018. “The tourists who come this summer will be our best spokepersons on how beautiful the beaches of Quintana Roo are,” said Vanegas, who also noted that the images posted on social networks do not coincide with those of the current situation.
However, tourists do not think the same as the official. A hotel worker from Playa del Carmen explained that tourists are deceived with photos that do not match the real situation. “In the agencies they show them pictures of I don’t know how many years or months back, and tell them: look,the beach is clean, there is no problem. And it’s not true. That’s why, when they arrive here, they tell us: ‘It’s not possible, you deceived us’. And for that, they stay one night and the next day they say thank you and go quickly to another place,” said a hotel employee, according to Animal Político.
“Tourists arrive thinking they are coming to the turquoise waters. And yes, the turquoise water is there, but it is one mile away from the beach. You have to pay for a tour or a boat to get there and enjoy it, because while standing on the shore, you can’t bathe in the sargasso,” said another resident of the area.
The sargasso problem is causing the hotel sector to reinvent itself with alternative options to maintain occupancy levels. After lowering rates between 15% and 25% to try not to lose tourists, now Riviera Maya hotels choose to temporarily move guests to other accommodations of the same chain or even others, where the beaches are clean of sargasso.
Click here to read the rest of the article in the Yucatan Times
Sargassum has been a concern not only for Belize, but our regional countries as well. Check out the video below for more information on how Belize is tackling the issue and how you can help, too.
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.
Reporter "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."
Reporter "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."
Reporter "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."
Reporter "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."
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.”
Sargassum study around Caye Caulker encourages further human intervention to address this environmental issue
An investigation into the effect of Sargassum in the marine environment surrounding Caye Caulker was conducted by a team comprised of members from the Belize Coastal Science Alliance and the Ocean Academy High School. The project aimed to find out the magnitude of the Hypoxia (low oxygen conditions) believed to be the result of rotten Sargassum. As such, the project also studied the comparison between areas on that island that have and have not seen human intervention. At the end of the research, and according to the findings, it was concluded that the area receiving human intervention had higher oxygen levels compared to areas that did not. This result advocates the initiative that removing the Sargassum from near shore water areas does reduce the impact to local marine life threatened by the large mats of this brown seaweed accumulating on coastal areas.
During the project, seven sites were inspected throughout the island: one site on the leeward side and the other six spread across on the windward side. These sites were docks, including docks at Tarpon, Caveman, San Pedro Belize Express, Tropical Paradise, Margarita Mike’s, la Isla, and Blue Sea. Every day and at the same time, measurements were recorded at the base of the dock. Each site had a point A and B. Point A was at the point just far enough from the beach to be at approximately one foot of water to allow the instrument to read. Point B was at the end of the dock. A scale was pre-planned to denote the level of built-up of sargassum as it extended horizontally from the beach. The scale used categories of width and stages of rot. The investigation reported that Sargassum accumulated against the beach floating at surface level with bright golden yellow color was classified as early decay. Midwater or neutrally buoyant sargassum, light brown in color or with a dusted look was considered mid-stage decay. Sunken, dark brown sargassum and disintegrating material were classified as late-stage decay.
Click here to read the rest of the article in the San Pedro Sun
Re: The Journey of the Sargassum
#538639 10/08/1906:04 AM10/08/1906:04 AM
Sargassum mapping empowers tourists Sargassum Monitoring compiles and maps images that show the sargassum impact across the region. One map shows beaches with sargassum and a separate map shows beaches without sargassum.
With sargassum-forecasting tools still in development, the maps offer one of the most comprehensive and up-to-date snapshots of the seaweed situation in the region.
The work requires extensive research and hours of time by a team of volunteers who check regional webcams, search the internet and cross-check information submitted by users.
Some areas, such as Cuba and Haiti, are more difficult to monitor than others. The team also runs into difficulty when monitoring webcams are shut off, at times to hide influxes of seaweed.
Re: The Journey of the Sargassum
#538640 10/08/1906:23 AM10/08/1906:23 AM