Sargassum Seaweed on beach

Paradise Lost? The Troubling Impact of Sargassum Seaweed on Caribbean Beaches

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Introduction

The Caribbean has always been known for its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant marine life. However, in recent years, a new player has entered the scene, causing quite a stir – sargassum seaweed. Every time I have visited beaches in Trinidad and the Caribbean, I am devastated by sargassum’s impact on our beloved beaches.

While this seaweed is a natural part of the ocean ecosystem, its massive influx has become a growing concern for the tourism industry in the Caribbean. In this blog post, we’ll explore the impact of sargassum seaweed on Caribbean tourism and what can be done to mitigate its effects.

What is Sargassum Seaweed?

Sargassum seaweed is a brown macroalga in the Sargasso Sea, located in the North Atlantic Ocean. While this seaweed is essential for the ocean ecosystem, its recent increase has become a significant problem for the Caribbean.

Map of the Sargasso Sea

“Two of the most widely known species are the holopelagic Sargassum fluitans and Sargassum natans, both commonly found in the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic.”

Source: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40152-022-00267-0

Why is Sargassum Seaweed a Problem?

Sargassum seaweed has become a significant problem in the Caribbean in recent years. This type of seaweed is typically found in the Sargasso Sea, located in the North Atlantic Ocean. However, due to various environmental factors, including climate change and ocean currents, large quantities of sargassum have been washing up on the shores of the Caribbean islands. The seaweed is unsightly and can emit a foul odour as it decomposes, negatively impacting tourism and the local economy. It also threatens marine life, as the thick mats of seaweed can trap and suffocate fish, sea turtles, and other marine animals.

CBS: Sargassum near Florida

In addition to the environmental impact, the removal and disposal of sargassum seaweed is a costly and time-consuming process. The seaweed can be challenging to remove, and once it is removed, it must be appropriately disposed of to prevent further environmental damage. This has put a strain on the resources of Caribbean governments and businesses, which have had to allocate additional funds to manage the influx of sargassum. The problem has become so severe that some experts have referred to it as a crisis, and there is a need for urgent action to address the issue and mitigate its impact on the region.

Mexico has spent $17 million removing the seaweed from its Caribbean-facing beaches since the unwelcome algae arrived there in 2011.

Source: Sargassum is strangling tourism in the Caribbean. Can scientists find a use for it?

The Sargassum Watch System

The Sargassum Watch System is a groundbreaking initiative that utilises satellite technology to monitor and predict the arrival of seaweed on the shores of the Caribbean. The system provides real-time data on the concentration, movement, and growth of Sargassum. With this information, local governments and businesses can take timely action to mitigate the impact of Sargassum on tourism, fishing, and marine ecosystems.

Sargassum on a beach in Cancun, Mexico, April, 2023. The Sargassum Watch System is a collaborative effort between several organisations, including the University of South Florida and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is a prime example of how technology can address environmental challenges and promote sustainable development.

“the first Sargassum influx in the region dates to June to September 2015 when these macroalgae, mixed with seagrass, began casting onto beaches in large quantities”

source: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40152-022-00267-0

Impact on Caribbean Tourism

The impact of sargassum seaweed on Caribbean tourism cannot be understated. The influx of seaweed has led to fewer tourists visiting the region. As a result, hotels and resorts have seen a drop in occupancy rates, and local businesses that rely on tourism have suffered. In some cases, beaches have had to be closed entirely, further exacerbating the issue.

Bird looking at Sargassum On Beach

Mitigating the Effects of Sargassum Seaweed

While the causes of the increased sargassum are complex and still being studied by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), there are several ways that tourists can help to address the problem:

1. Participate in beach cleanups: Many local organisations and hotels organise beach cleanups to remove sargassum and other debris from the shoreline. Tourists can participate in these cleanups and help to keep beaches clean.

2. Use eco-friendly products: When visiting the beach, use eco-friendly products like sunscreen and toiletries free of harmful chemicals. These products can harm marine life and contribute to the growth of sargassum.

3. Spread the word: Share information about sargassum and how tourists can address the problem with friends and family. This can help to raise awareness and encourage more people to get involved.

The CTO provides updates on the impact of sargassum seaweed on tourism in the Caribbean. Sustainable Travel International another organization that is working to use “travel and tourism to create environmental and social impact in destinations around the world.”

Conclusion

In conclusion, the impact of sargassum seaweed on Caribbean tourism is a growing concern that cannot be ignored. While there is no easy solution to this problem, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate its effects. Governments, hotels, and local businesses all have a role to play in preserving the natural beauty of the Caribbean and ensuring that tourism remains a sustainable industry. With the right strategies, we can ensure that visitors continue to flock to the Caribbean for years.


Sources

Featured Image by Thor Tryggvason on Unsplash

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