By Orville Williams
Residents, business owners and tourists along Antigua and Barbuda’s coastline are breathing a bit better these days, as the much-loathed impact of sargassum seaweed has lessened significantly in recent months.
Marine ecologist Ruleo Camacho confirmed to Observer yesterday that early predictions of a decline in September/October have come true, adding that things should remain that way for the next few months.
“Currently, sargassum numbers are actually down; we’ve been seeing less and less, particularly over the last couple of months. So far [this month], we haven’t been seeing a lot of inundation on the coastline [and] it’s kind of following the general pattern that we’ve seen over the years,” he explained.
“We peaked around July…and right now, it’s the lowest that we’ve seen since November last year. The current prediction from all the tracking agencies is that the next couple of months should be relatively calm, in the sense that we really shouldn’t have too much sargassum.”
While this is no doubt welcome news for many, it could prove to be just another temporary decline and the blankets of decayed seaweed that have been a nuisance for about a decade could return in full force next year.
The eyesore and unpleasant odour caused by the washed-up seaweed has affected hotels in the past, forcing them to close until it is removed from the vicinity, while some homeowners have had to shutter their windows and doors to keep out the pungent smell.
Despite the current reprieve, Camacho says the twin island nation could be hit with a reversion – based on previous experience – in approximately five months.
“[The current decrease] is good news, but we’ve seen this trend where it decreases during the winter months and then starts to pick up around March/April.
“Maybe this will be the year that it breaks the mould and doesn’t pick back up, but so far, [it] has been following the established pattern from the last three or four years,” he said.
In the meantime, the government has been calling on residents to help turn the nuisance into a potential business opportunity and there have been suggestions of using the seaweed as fertiliser.
According to Camacho, work is still ongoing in that regard, and his agency will continue to monitor and evaluate the impact on the country.
“Through the National Parks Authority, we’re primarily tracking, [but] I know the Department of Analytical Services – through Dr [Linroy] Christian – is working with a couple groups, looking at finding ways to utilise it as a resource.
“I know there have been some samples sent off, but primarily what we’re looking at right now is trying to establish quantities and how often it’s affecting us,” Camacho added.