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VI residents urged to utilise 'dreaded' Sargassum seaweed

- Smelly vegetation brings with it several environmental benefits- Marine Biologist Mervin D. Hastings
Sargassum at the Road Town Harbour. Photo: VINO/File
Workers during a clean up exercise at Dolphin Discovery. Photo: VINO/File
Workers during a clean up exercise at Dolphin Discovery. Photo: VINO/File
“The Sargassum seaweed provides a source of food, home and nursery to an amazing variety of marine species (plants, shrimps, crabs, birds, fish, turtles, etc.). Sargassum also aids in creating sand dunes which helps in restoring eroded beaches and can also serve as biofuel and landfill,” Mr Hastings said. Photo: VINO/File
“The Sargassum seaweed provides a source of food, home and nursery to an amazing variety of marine species (plants, shrimps, crabs, birds, fish, turtles, etc.). Sargassum also aids in creating sand dunes which helps in restoring eroded beaches and can also serve as biofuel and landfill,” Mr Hastings said. Photo: VINO/File
ROAD TOWN, Tortola, VI – Residents of the Virgin Islands (VI) are being urged to utilise the Sargassum seaweed that washes up along the Territory’s shorelines, given its many environmental benefits.

While the weed is known to carry a putrid and unbearable odour that creates discomfort to persons and businesses, Marine Biologist at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour, Mr Mervin D. Hastings is reminding residents to not let the seaweed go to waste when it washes up on shore. 

Environmental Benefits

“The Sargassum seaweed provides a source of food, home and nursery to an amazing variety of marine species (plants, shrimps, crabs, birds, fish, turtles, etc.). Sargassum also aids in creating sand dunes which helps in restoring eroded beaches and can also serve as biofuel and landfill,” Mr Hastings said.

Along with officials at the Ministry, he is further encouraging residents to utilise the seaweed in gardens and as fertilizers, mulch or compost.

According to Mr Hastings, Sargassum seaweed in water is harmless, however, hydrogen sulphide is released when it lands on beaches and is decomposed while adding that the “rotten eggs” smelling gas that is colourless, can possibly be poisonous and highly flammable.

Mr Hastings went on to reassure residents that the gas is only harmful to one’s health in concentrated amounts, in closed areas and not in open areas like beaches, marinas and ports of entry.

Health Risks

According to a release from the Government Information Service (GIS), statistics from the University of South Florida Optical Oceanography Lab based on historical bloom patterns shows that in the coming months, there is a high chance that Sargassum in the Caribbean will continue to occur in high volumes in 2019, possibly exceeding the historical record that was set in 2018.

Mr Hastings warned that prolonged exposure to the gas emitted from the seaweed may trigger eye irritation as well as respiratory problems in persons with respiratory problems, asthma patients, elderly people, babies and pregnant women.

While calling for residents and community organisers to mobilise for clean-up efforts, persons are being asked to wait until the seaweed is washed up on the shores and avoid using heavy equipment to remove the seaweed as this can cause damage to beach areas and other sensitive marine ecosystems.

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