BVI Plans to Tackle Smelly Weed Problem.

Photo credit: Beaches in Belize choked with Sargassum weed.
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By Jonathan Mason-June 4th, 2023.

The Government of the Virgin Islands has announced in a press release that it is seeking ways to manage the threat of the sargassum seaweed and has concluded a two-day trainer’s workshop for in sargassum management.

The aim of the workshop was to build the capacity of coastal and marine managers and users of sargassum to sustainably manage this threat, says the press release.

The focus of the training was to increase understanding on the science of sargassum – its origins and ecological value, the principles of adaptive management, selection of tools and approaches for monitoring, clean-up and the rehabilitation of affected areas.

Representatives from multiple organisations including the BVI Tourist Board, National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands, Unite BVI, and the BVI Ports Authority participated in the training.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry with the responsibility for Natural Resources, Mr. Ronald Smith-Berkeley said he was happy to see the joint efforts made for the workshop to take place.

Mr. Smith-Berkeley said, “We at the ministry appreciate the efforts made, by everyone involved in this workshop.  We also appreciate the interest shown by the stakeholders, and the fact that they came out to learn and share knowledge about the issue so that collectively we find a solution to the management of the seaweed.”

The press release does not reveal any conclusions arrived at by the workshop, but management of sargassum weed is a problem that the whole Caribbean and Atlantic region is confronting thjis year.

What is sargassum and why is it flourishing?

Sargassum is a type of buoyant, rootless algae that bunches up in islands and floats around the ocean.

Patches of sargassum have been spotted in the Atlantic Ocean for centuries, but since 2011, a 5,000-mile-long belt of the seaweed has circulated annually between the Gulf of Mexico and the mid-Atlantic.

The density of that belt’s clusters keeps increasing, possibly because modern agriculture techniques are sending more and more nutrients downstream and into the ocean.

Just this April, sargassum levels in the Caribbean Sea reached a new record, with the overall belt growing to an estimated 13 million tons, according to a bulletin from the University of South Florida Optical Oceanography lab.

And the top bloom season is still days away, with a peak likely to hit in June or July. If the past is precedent, the size of the belt in July could be double what it is in April, says Brian Barnes, a researcher at USF’s College of Marine Science.

But already, sargassum beachings are increasing, with the southern regions of Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico looking likely to be the most badly affected.

Once ashore, sargassum isn’t just unsightly or cumbersome to swim around — it stinks. The seaweed starts to decay within 24 hours of hitting the shore, releasing hydrogen sulfide and the smell of rotten eggs.

Removing sargassum is only one challenge; disposing of it is another entirely.

Key West contracts with a company that donates sargassum to farmers to use as fertilizer, but in Mexico, it’s trucked inland to rot in the jungle, reports National Geographic. What approach the BVI is going to aim for is as yet uncertain.

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