August 30, 2017
As mats of brown seaweed continue to wash ashore the island’s coasts, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is assuring the public that the occurrence is a natural phenomenon and poses no threat to the environment or human life.
The seaweed is actually a type of open ocean algae called Sargassum. It is only found in the Atlantic Ocean and provides refuge for migratory species. It is also an essential habitat for some species of fish and invertebrates and provides shelter and food to Sea Turtles and commercially important fish like Tuna. Additionally, Sargassum plays a role in beach nourishment and is an important element in shoreline stability.
In recent months mats of Sargassum have been appearing along beaches in St Maarten, Florida and the Caribbean coastline of Mexico. Massive amounts of pelagic Sargassum also occurred throughout the Caribbean in 2011, 2014 and 2015.
The recent influx of Sargassum is believed to be related to massive Sargassum in a particular area in the Atlantic Ocean where nutrients are available and temperatures are high. The Sargassum consolidates into large mats and is transported by ocean currents towards and through the Caribbean, washing up on beaches throughout the region.
As it collects and decomposes on the seashore there will be a smell and it will also attract insects. Leaving the Sargassum on the beach has proven to be the simplest and lowest cost solution, however in instances where the seaweed is removed, NEPA is advising individuals to take special care to minimize the amount of sand which may also be removed from the seashore.
The Agency is advising that the following steps be taken if individuals choose to remove the seaweed:
Sargassum can also be used as mulch or compost once the salt is washed out and it is mixed with manure. It is not like sea moss that can be used in food and drink. The Sargassum can also be redistributed to areas affected by beach erosion, with care taken not to impact other resources such as sea turtle nests.