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JAMAICA | Excessive Seaweed May Impact Beaches

Environmental Officer at the National Environment and Planning Agency, Rudolph Carroll assessing Sargassum on the shores of the Hellshire Beach, St. Catherine Environmental Officer at the National Environment and Planning Agency, Rudolph Carroll assessing Sargassum on the shores of the Hellshire Beach, St. Catherine
KINGSTON, Jamaica, June 29, 2018 - The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is advising the public and beach operators including hoteliers, to expect an influx of the brown seaweed known as Sargassum in the upcoming weeks along the north and south coast of the island.

The floating mats of seaweed have been spotted offshore Jamaica with some beaches already being impacted, e.g. Hellshire Beach, St Catherine and Long Bay, Portland. The Agency is assuring the public that the occurrence is a natural phenomenon and poses no threat to human life or the environment.

The influx of the seaweed is believed to be related to increased growth and accumulation in the Atlantic Ocean where nutrients are available and temperatures are high. The seaweed consolidates into large mats and is transported by ocean currents through the Caribbean, washing up on beaches throughout the region.

As it collects and decomposes on the seashore there may be an offensive odor and it will also attract insects. Leaving the Sargassum on the beach has proven to be the simplest and lowest cost solution. In instances where it becomes necessary to remove the seaweed from the beach NEPA has prepared guidelines for the removal of Sargassum. The following steps may be taken to remove the seaweed:

  1. Stockpile the seaweed
  1. Turn the material occasionally to encourage drying and the ultimate shaking-off of the sand.
  2. Return the sand to the beach
  3. Dispose of the organic material.

The seaweed may also be buried on the beach. Special care should be taken to minimize the amount of sand abstracted when removing Sargassum from the beach. The use of heavy compacting equipment on the beach must be specifically permitted by the Agency.

Sargassum is a type of open ocean algae. It is only found in the Atlantic Ocean and provides refuge for migratory species. It is also an essential habitat for some species of fish and invertebrates and provides shelter and food to sea turtles and commercially important fish like tuna. Additionally, Sargassum plays a role in beach nourishment and is an important element in shoreline stability.

However, in excessive amounts it may result in beach erosion and disrupt the aesthetics of the beach as is currently being experienced by some of our Caribbean neighbours.  

Sargassum may also be used as mulch or compost once the salt is washed out and it is mixed with manure.

  • Countries: Jamaica

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