June 11, 2020
The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is advising the public to expect an increase of mats of the brown seaweed known as Sargassum along several beaches across the island in the upcoming months.
Jamaica, like several Caribbean Islands, have been impacted by the seaweed which has been spotted offshore Jamaica. Some beaches across the island, particularly in Portland, St. Thomas, St Catherine and Westmorland are already being heavily impacted.
What is Sargassum?
Sargassum is a type of open ocean algae that is only found in the Atlantic Ocean and provides refuge for migratory species. An essential habitat for several species of fish and invertebrates, it provides shelter and food to sea turtles and commercially important fish such as Tuna. Additionally, Sargassum plays a role in beach nourishment, and is an important element in shoreline stability, however, in excessive amounts it may result in beach erosion and disruption in the visual landscape.
The increase of the seaweed is believed to be related to heightened ocean temperatures and the availability of nutrients discharged from major rivers within the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. The seaweed forms into large mats and is transported by ocean currents towards the Caribbean, washing up on beaches throughout the region.
Management of Sargassum
As sargassum collects and decomposes on the coastline, it produces an odour that attracts insects. Allowing the Sargassum to remain on the beach has proven to be the simplest and lowest cost solution, however, there are instances where it becomes necessary to remove the seaweed.
NEPA is advising individuals that the use of heavy compacting equipment on the beach is not recommended and that special care should be taken to minimize the amount of sand that is removed during the clean-up activity. Individuals who wish to remove and dispose of Sargassum may be guided by the following:
The Agency further wishes to advise beach operators that should the need arise for the use of heavy equipment such as tractors and front-end loaders for the removal of Sargassum and other accumulated debris, permission should sought from the Agency prior to carrying out the activity.
Joint Research on Sargassum
In order to better understand how we can effectively manage the influx of Sargassum, the National Environment & Planning Agency has partnered with a multidisciplinary team from the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. The team has been conducting research ranging from forecasting Sargassum landings, to the use of the seaweed in soil conditioning and as fertilizer. Thus far, the results from use as a compost on crops such as corn shows promise. In addition, the research is investigating the extraction of potentially bioactive compounds and other valuable substances, as well as the seaweed’s potential use in the generation of energy in bio-digesters. In other parts of the Caribbean, Sargassum is used as animal feed, food for humans, in cosmetics, the manufacture of take-away containers for food and bricks for construction.