Sargassum presents challenge for environment and tourism

| 25/07/2022 | 82 Comments
  • Cayman News Service
  • Cayman News Service
  • Cayman News Service
  • Cayman News Service

(CNS): An unprecedented amount of Sargassum that invaded the North Sound on Saturday is presenting a significant challenge for the Cayman Islands as the country tries to rebuild its tourism business two and a half years after the COVID-19 pandemic closed its borders. However, it is also a major environmental threat.

Staff from the Department of Environment and the premier’s Ministry of Sustainability and Climate Resiliency will be meeting today (Monday) to discuss options to remove this dense brown seaweed, which floats on the surface of the water and is now posing a major problem that will likely be costly to solve.

The amount of Sargassum in 2022 is blowing away the previous record set in 2018. Scientists studying the great Atlantic Sargassum patch said there is approximately 24.2 million tonnes now floating across the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Along Grand Cayman’s North Coast, it is not just causing an unsightly malodorous mess but is killing fish and everything else in the ocean under the dense mat of vegetation. As it pushes inland, it is now threatening the mangroves and fish nurseries.

According to researchers from Florida Atlantic University, this year’s bloom in the Atlantic is primarily caused by the runoff of fertiliser and nutrients. Seasonal Sargassum is getting worse in the tropical Atlantic because of increasing nitrogen and phosphorus from discharges in the Congo, Amazon and Mississippi rivers, atmospheric deposition from Saharan dust, and the burning of vegetation in Central and South Africa.

This has created apocalyptic scenes on coastlines around the region. Ths Sargassum has been washing up on Cayman’s coastline for several months now, but the arrival of the massive amount in the North Sound this weekend has truly shocked people.

Troy Leacock, a local watersports operator and CITA vice president who makes his living on the North Sound, said that the incursion of the Sargassum into the North Sound presents an extreme challenge for Cayman because it has nowhere to go once it enters that body of water, creating a deadly carpet for sea life.

“Of course this is terrible for tourism and a major challenge to those of us operating boats in the North Sound, but it is also a serious threat to the marine environment, given the density of the influx which happened almost overnight,” Leacock said. He added that because of the risk this poses to marine life, including the mangroves, and the likelihood that the situation will get even worse, there needs to be a long-term strategy in the Cayman Islands to remove the Sargassum before it reaches the land.

DoE Deputy Director Tim Austin explained that there are limited options for tackling the worst influx of the pelagic Sargassum on record, but they hope to present a number of possible solutions at today’s meeting, all of which could be expensive. One idea is to invest in clean-up boats but that is by no means a cheap or easy solution, he noted.

Leacock believes that Cayman should make the investment, regardless of the cost, since the challenge will likely be ongoing. “We cannot afford to allow any more threats to our marine environment without trying to take action,” he told CNS. “If the source of the Sargassum bloom across the Atlantic is the runoff from the Amazon and other deltas, that isn’t going to change anytime soon, so we have to expect this problem is only going to get worse.”

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (82)

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  1. Human Parasites says:

    Dear Climate Change deniers, I hope you have to pay much more with future cleanups and environmental impact duties. Mother Nature has more to come, stay tuned.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    There are hundreds of dead fish in the sargassum!

  3. M1 says:

    As soon as seaweed was on the satellite radar heading towards us, a SURFACE NET TO CATCH THE SEAWEED, extending from West Bay to Rum Point, safeguarding the North Sound, should have been set up! … That is thinking prevention!

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Figure out a way to extract any harmful components from the sargassum seaweed and use the beneficial balance as fertilizer.

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    • Good luck with that says:

      There are ways and it’s $$$$$$. Plus the import of such chemicals and equipment to effect a solution is prohibitive on the scale required. Not to mention the land needed and waste disposal requirements are more restrictive than where this is being currently processed. Finally, No one would want to be anywhere near such a facility.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Biggest problem is extracting the salt. That’s a lot of fresh water bobo.

    • Anonymous says:

      Reminds me a soup from a leather boot.

  5. Anonymous says:

    2 cents is about all this opinion is worth.
    Do you see HOW MUCH sargassum is out there?

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Over Crown property it is a Govt problem. Once it touches private land (including private-owned canals), it becomes a private landowner problem.

    Privacy and exclusivity comes with all sorts of things these days.

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    • My 2 cents says:

      I would still suggest putting prisoners to work towards cleaning this up.
      They could earning a small stipend and get outdoors and property could get cleaned.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Remember that time they put the prisoners to work on a farm? Ask the Schirn family how that worked out.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    Ive seen other islands use booms to redirect it from beaches…

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    • Anonymous says:

      So, are we going to fund and place booms around the island or are we going to be selective and only protect “high value” areas?

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  8. Anonymous says:

    I love the smell of Sargassum in the morning…..

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  9. Anonymous says:

    It’s a little but surreal seeing all of the comments about ‘having to clean this up,’ and that’s it, end of task. Doesn’t anyone understand what’s going on here, the world is broken. Fertiliser run off, vegetation burn in central & South America and all Troy Leacock and the majority of commentators are concerned about is applying a local band-aid. There also needs to be huge shift and global awareness movement but the truth is nobody really cares enough to really want to do something about it.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Since at least 2015, supranationals USAID, EnGrais, IFDC, CORAF, and PAIRED have been quietly pouring hundreds of millions a year into unsupervised West African Fertilizer, Seed (Coffee, Shea, Cocoa, Corn), Pork, Aquaculture projects to improve “resiliency” and “economic prospects” with the well-meaning hope of stemming the flow of economic migrants to Europe–>South America/Mexico/USA border. Unfortunately, the guidance for use, published in English by FeSeRWAM has been ignored or misapplied repeatedly. Like jam on toast, more is not always better, even if it’s “free”. Alluvial nitrogen, the feedstock of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), is covered extensively in the UN IPCC AR5 (2014) and AR6 (2022), but even left-leaning western media “climate desks” still don’t want to accurately summarise what are certain to be unpopular published mitigations and/or broadcast them (Chapter 5 of AR6 goes into this too!). So, this year’s Sargassum bloom is already worse than 2018’s. “Chickens coming home to roost”, as they say here in Cayman.

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  10. Chris Johnson says:

    This has been a big problem in Central America as well as other Caribbean Islands for the past few years. I do hope CIG is reaching out to those countries to share their expertise.

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  11. Anonymous says:

    OMG….how much we paying to fly down to paradise to lay on those beaches and smell that smell? Oh wow…..reduce those rates where that is in effect.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Boyan Slat. Consult him. Even though he cleans pacific trash vortex, he works on other stuff for rivers.
    The solution must be long term. Lots of jobs could be created.
    https://theoceancleanup.com/

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  13. Anonymous says:

    Unlimited feed stock for a waste to energy plant. Possibly even for ethanol production. The tech is out there.

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    • Anonymous says:

      And incredible amounts of fertilizer and soil while we are at it!

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      • Anonymous says:

        But not for edible crops – too high a concentration of heavy metals. #funfacts

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        • Why does Cayman have a high incidence of Cancer? says:

          It’s OK, Cayman has a high tolerance for Arsenic. Cows graze on land once used for burned hurricane debris. Bananas an other water loving crops are frequently grown in soil contaminated from the same activity. Again there doesn’t seem to be an issue as Gov’t just sends samples away to a lab that provides a clean result.

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          • Anonymous says:

            And while we’re at it, lets keep allowing carcinogen weedkillers like roundup to be imported into Cayman.

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          • Anonymous says:

            Very interesting. I have wondered what happened to all of the past storm debris, as many building materials are carcinogens when burning.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes if you remove the heavy metals.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    This sounds like mostly a tourism problem. Which sounds like the CITA should be investing in some sargassum cleanup then.

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  15. Anonymous says:

    Meeting today you say? Typically reactive rather than proactive. Like they weren’t expecting it?

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  16. Anonymous says:

    SAWS: The total Sargassum amount increased from ~18.8 million tons in May 2022 to ~24.2 million tons in June 2022, thus setting a new historical record.
    https://optics.marine.usf.edu/projects/SaWS/pdf/Sargassum_outlook_2022_bulletin06_USF.pdf

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  17. Anonymous says:

    Caymanians: *among the highest emissions per capita in the world*
    Also Caymanians: what are you doing about Sargassum??

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  18. Anonymous says:

    It’s just a warning ⚠️

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  19. Anonymous says:

    Any bets on who stands to make hundreds of thousands of dollars cleaning up this neverending natural phenomenon?

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  20. Anonymous says:

    If we didn’t already have our trip booked and due to arrive next week, we would cancel immediately. We gambled with our airfare and have non-refundable tickets. That much sargassum looks disgusting. It may be good for something (besides killing off fish), but it certainly does not make us want to fly down.

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  21. Anonymous says:

    clean up boats????….ha….this should be fun.

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  22. Anonymous says:

    My god. This government needs to have an emergency meeting about seaweed? Please can they get their priorities straight and do their real jobs? Like meeting regularly in Parliament and sharing their policies and updating legislation etc?

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  23. Anonymous says:

    we have poisoned our air and oceans, cayman has done nothing …this is payback from mother nature.
    if you think tourists will come here to experience this rotting on the beaches…you are in for a big shock.
    water front real estate is in for a huge crash……any comment from our local realtor ‘experts’??????

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