As this month marks a year since the Sargassum seaweed has returned to the shores of Barbados and other Eastern Caribbean countries, a university professor is predicting that it may be here “semi-permanently.”
Professor of marine ecology and fisheries with the University of the West Indies, Hazel Oxenford, told Barbados TODAY this afternoon, that the university was about to embark on a study to show the level of impact the brown, free-floating algae, originating in the Sargasso Sea, was having on countries, especially their fishing industries.
The seaweed, which first started washing up on the island’s shores in 2011, leaving for a period, is again causing concern among curious citizens with its proliferation on selected beaches across the island, particularly on the East Coast.
“It looks as though whatever changes are happening may be at least semi-permanent,” Oxenford said. “We really don’t know at this point and in fact we are about to embark on a study with the University of Mississippi, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the CARICOM Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), to see if we can be able to predict the Sargassum events and see what impacts they are having on fisheries productivity.”
The professor explained that research now showed that the seaweed was coming from a new source in the Amazon, and was also being reported in Venezuela and Colombia.
“When it happened in 2011, it was a new phenomenon because we had never seen this Sargassum weed coming ashore in this part of the Caribbean. [At that time], it was also happening off the West Coast of South Africa.
“In 2011, it was a huge deal, and many of the expensive resorts in Antigua and other places were closed because of the seaweed collecting in the windward bays and making swimming impossible.
“It returned this time last year, and it hasn’t really stopped since then; and we have to look at that,” Oxenford stated.
The educator who has an extensive Caribbean research and consulting experience, stressed it was important for the public to note that Sargassum was not poisonous, and might have benefits coming along with its negative impact.
Actually, she indicated that members of the public should not be panicking about the seaweed, but being more focused on what could be done about controlling it.
“Some adaptation may be necessary . . . . It is not pollution. It has positives, as well as negatives.
“It is providing a lot of shelter and habitats for our young fish and for turtle hatchlings and for all sorts of creatures that live and take shelter under the Sargassum when it’s out in the open sea,” Oxenford suggested.