A recent discussion on The Bubb Report has revealed some blistering news that the Sagassum seaweed is here to stay. With this in mind, it is only prudent for the nation to be prepared when it comes to avoid the invasion creating problems in the environmental and marine space. This situation can now be referred to as the new normal, a sad day especially for people living on the coastlines. Residents at Marquis and Soubise in Saint Andrew have had their full share of miseries. Besides having health issues from the fumes and stench emanating from the seaweed, their television sets and other electronic gadgets have fallen prey to the presence of the fumes from the Sagassum seaweed.
The situation is now spreading to other parts of the island and lately it was washed up on the shore at Grand Anse Beach and on the Carenage in Saint George’s. A member of the panel discussion on The Bubb Report said that she noted with interest the quick time the seaweed was removed from Grand Anse Beach. She praised the team of workers and the method used in Saint George as opposed to in Saint Andrew and called for a year round all-inclusive plan to deal with the situation when it comes our way since it’s the new normal.
This problem started in 2011, since then we’ve had a variable amount sometimes a gigantic amount from the East Caribbean to Mexico in the Yucatan Peninsula. Shouldn’t there be a holistic approach to removing it by now? As Grenadians, we understand the input Grand Anse Beach has on the economy by way of the tourist dollar. Bur aren’t the fishermen on the other side of the island contributing to the economy too? Let’s have a conversation to decentralize the plan of removal. Why is the seaweed left on the sea coasts in Saint Andrew to build up to three feet in some instances, when all it takes are rakes, wheelbarrows and some man power as seen on Grand Anse Beach?
This might be a bitter pill to swallow; but we contribute by way of our lifestyles to the conditions that are causing the seaweed to flourish in our parts, and they are not going away anytime soon even if we take radical action. As we are moving from pit latrines to toilets flushed with water, how many of us ponder on the question of where does the sewerage go? From the discussion, we have learnt that the three prevailing factors that were attributed are -an increased level of nutrients in sea water since the ocean is being used as our disposal units; and huge amounts of fertilizer from agriculture, sewerage discharges which elevate the levels of nutrients over the last 150-200 years.
Then there is the climate change issue which causes sea surfaces to get warmer than they have historically been. We know now that elevated sea surface temperature can accelerate the growth of seaweed; also wind patterns affected by climate change affect the ocean currents. Since the type of seaweed that now inundates our shores is a macro algae that float on top of the high seas, it certainly will get washed to our parts of the world with its bad smell from decomposing microbes that get trapped in it.
There is the belief that the seaweed can be managed much better before it becomes a crisis. We have also learnt that last year the Ministry of Environment developed an adaptive sargassum strategy, which was put in place. Maybe, for the greater good, the new government should take a look at the strategy since the seaweed can also disturb the adult turtles as they swim to shore to lay eggs; and the hatchlings from swimming into the sea when they get entangled. The weed also affects the circulation of the water causing low oxygen. In Soubise, the grey water from homes and black water from sewerage on the coastline cause warmer water, which kills fish especially the eels that come to the surface to breathe or forage.
Presently, the seaweed is stockpiled at Pearls, an area which was chosen by the previous government. The new government is now looking for ways to utilize it, or a safer place to store it. The specialists warn that caution must be taken when using this type of weed as animal feed or fertilizer because of the heavy concentration of heavy metals found in the water which the weed absorbs.
With all this in mind, shouldn’t it be prudent for us to respect the ocean which provides over 50% of the oxygen that we breathe? The focus, as revealed by many including our new prime minister, is to avoid the seaweed from reaching the coastline where it is causing the problems. But care must be taken to avoid damaging the eco system in removing the weed out at sea since heavy equipment takes away the sand too, which can cause beach erosion. The question is therefore, where would be the safest part of the sea to start the removal operation?