New invasion underway of Sargassum seaweed

POSTED: 07/10/15 8:25 PM


seaweed mont vernon1

Sargassum seaweed is piling up on Orient Beach in the vicinity of Mont Vernon. Photo Today / Hilbert Haar

Nature Foundation sounds the alarm

GREAT BAY – The St. Maarten Nature Foundation is again warning for a significant influx of the invasive Sargassum seaweed in the coming weeks. “We have coordinated our monitoring efforts with our partners in the region and based on weather predictions and satellite images there is a significant amount of the seaweed headed in our general direction. This on top of the large volume of seaweed that we have already been experiencing,” says Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets. Especially the beaches of Guana Bay, Gibbes Bay and Dawn Beach and the area of Point Blanche are heavily impacted. The seaweed has also reached large parts of Orient Beach on the French side.

“We have worked with our partners in the region and with local stakeholders to find a way to control the amount of the weed washing up on beaches but this has proved to be a very difficult task. The removal of the seaweed with heavy loaders causes serious risk to nesting sea turtles and hatchlings while the grass itself can be a hazard to the animals,” Bervoets says. “We received information of sea turtle deaths caused by the grass from our colleagues in Barbados where the seagrass has suffocated turtles in large numbers.”

Economically speaking there is a serious effect that seagrass is having on the beaches of the island. “As soon as the grass is cleared it is being deposited back on the beach by the wind and currents. We will continue to research the effects of the grass and some possible solutions but at this point Sint Maarten, like many islands in the Caribbean, is heavily impacted,” Bervoets said.

Sargassum is a genus of brown (class Phaeophyceaeseaweed which is distributed throughout the temperate and tropical oceans of the world. Most of the Sargassum Seaweed lies concentrated in the Sargassum Sea, a region in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean surrounded by ocean currents. It is bounded on the west by the Gulf Stream; on the north, by the North Atlantic Current; on the east, by the Canary Current; and on the south, by the North Atlantic Equatorial Current.

Sargassum first plagued the Caribbean and St. Maarten in 2011 and 2012, when the Nature Foundation warned people to avoid swimming in Guana Bay in August and September due to the large amount of Sargassum weed. Many beachfront residences and hotels have had to continuously clean washed up Sargassum.

The large influx of Sargassum weed is due to a suspected southward shift in the Gulf Stream, which has pushed the Sargassum Sea – an area of the Atlantic Ocean where the weed is in thick concentration – down south. This coupled with the seaweed flourishing due to warmer seawater temperatures has caused a huge amount of seaweed to enter the region. Scientists suspect that the invasion is a result of climate change.

The Nature Foundation urges the community to keep an eye out for wildlife, especially sea turtles, that may experience difficulties due to the weed and to call 544 42 67 in case a distressed animal is observed. The foundation also urges the community to collect as much of the Sargassum weed as possible to use in their gardens as a fertilizer. “We urge the community to collect, rinse and add the seaweed to compost to be used in gardens. Do not apply it to the soil directly but rinse the seaweed first and then add to your compost heap,” Bervoets said.


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