By Orville Williams
News that over the next couple months there will be a likely decrease in the sargassum that often blankets many of Antigua’s beaches has been received optimistically by the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association (ABHTA).
The seaweed has been affecting Antigua and Barbuda and neighbouring Caribbean islands for 10 years, creating both ecological and economic challenges, and last month’s impact was one of the worst on record.
According to a recent report from the Environment Unit at the Antigua and Barbuda National Park, the University of South Florida’s Optical Oceanography Lab reported that, “in July 2021, the overall sargassum amount decreased from June 2021 across the Central Atlantic by about 18 percent”.
It noted, however, that, “despite this overall decrease, large amounts of sargassum were observed in the region east of the Lesser Antilles [and] in all regions combined, total sargassum amount was higher than all previous Julys, with the exception of July 2018”.
Marine ecologist Ruleo Camacho – who prepared the report – had predicted at the start of the year that it could be a bad one for sargassum, noting that satellite images had identified tons of the seaweed heading for the region.
He says now that Antigua and Barbuda and the rest of the Lesser Antilles will continue to face excessive amounts of sargassum, despite the report of an overall decrease, adding importantly though that “there is some optimism that sargassum beaching events will decrease in the [near] future, with historical observations indicating a decrease in the months of September/October”.
That will no doubt be a sweet song to the ears of the ABHTA, whose members have been among the worst-affected by the troublesome seaweed.
The many resorts that sell a picture of pristine beaches and translucent water to their visiting guests often have to bear the unsightly view that the seaweed creates when it washes up, not to mention the pungent odour it emanates when it begins to decompose.
The economic impact is also very clear, as the seaweed tends to drives away bathers, which could in turn impact bookings.
In fact, during 2018 – possibly the worst year for the sargassum in Antigua and Barbuda – St James’s Club was forced to temporarily close its doors for several months.
Executive Chairman of the ABHTA, Vernon Jeffers, told Observer that “it goes without saying”, the news of the likely decrease in sargassum is great for the local sector, especially as some of his members have been complaining about the impact of the seaweed, which affects mostly the eastern and south-eastern sections of Antigua.
He says the ABHTA will continue to lobby the government for increased assistance in managing the nuisance, but commended the hotels for the individual efforts that they have been making to rid the beaches of the sargassum.
There is some promise that a permanent solution could be found for the sargassum, with the government confirming last week that much of it was being harvested by an unnamed entrepreneur, to be transported to a plant in Finland and “turned into a useful product”. Information Minister Melford Nicholas also encouraged residents who may have creative ideas about how to utilise the seaweed to put those ideas into practice.