Worrying quantities sargassum seaweed are returning to beaches on the north-eastern end of Antigua & Barbuda, creating a problem for beach lovers and some businesses in the area, particularly hotels.
Ruleta Camacho Thomas, the Deputy Chief Environment Officer within the Environment Division, says a number of measures are in place to deal with the usually smelly material.
The Environment Division sends out people on a weekly basis to help restore the aesthetics for which Antigua’s beaches are most famous. Camacho-Thomas says the work is done on beaches that people frequent.
“However, you can clean now and literally one hour later, a huge blob comes in and it’s like you didn’t do anything. We have people going on the beach once per week cleaning, and those would be the more popular beaches on the island on the east side like Jabberwok. We have people going using manual labour, using rakes to pick it up,” he said.
According to her, the algae which begins to rot when washed up on our shows pose no risk to human health. She does explain, however, that some of our friends in the sea may experience some issues with the large quantities of seaweed.
What ends up happening, is that the bulky seaweed can potentially block out oxygen and sunlight, two things essential for life.
“Marine animals can get trapped, anything swimming in the upper column of the water. They use the sargassum as a home as protection in the open water. The problem is, can you imagine a layer of foam in your coffee and they’re existing just beneath that?” she posited.
The Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority says ‘The Beach Is Just The Beginning’, but what if the unsightly sargassum is one of the first things our visitors see? To combat the negative effects on tourism, guidelines on who to manage and remove the sargassum have been distributed to property owners in the industry.
“We have sargassum guidelines for hotel and property owners. St Jame’s Club would be one of the best examples that we have who uses the guidelines and is following it. For us, that’s the best-case example. They communicate regularly with us, let us know what they’re doing and how it’s working for them,” Camacho-Thomas says.
There are those who may be looking for health benefits from the massive influx of seaweed. Camacho-Thomas warns that research on consumption must be done.
“Around the Caribbean and in other places, it is being stocked and used as fertiliser. You can go online and look up the various uses of it but it’s high in salt content so you have to be careful. The problem with making it a commercial activity is that it’s unpredictable in terms of the volume and timing. You don’t know when you’re going to get it and how much you’re going to get,” she added.
Antigua has been plagued by sargassum for several years and this has proven to be challenging for some hoteliers.