How to Respond to a Sargassum Influx
In May 2018 the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) launched a new infographic guide for the tourism sector on to how to respond to the sargassum influx, and best practices to apply if cleaning beaches.
“Pelagic sargassum is a brown alga, or seaweed that floats free in the ocean and never attaches to the ocean floor. These free-floating forms are only found in the Atlantic Ocean. Sargassum provides refuge for migratory species and essential habitat for some 120 species of fish and more than 120 species of invertebrates. It’s an important nursery habitat that provides shelter and food for endangered species such as sea turtles and for commercially important species of fish such as tunas. There are two species of sargassum involved in the sargassum influx: Sargassum natans and Sargassum fluitans” (Doyle and Franks, 2015).
Sargassum consolidates into large mats and travels on ocean currents. In recent years, massive quantities of pelagic sargassum have come ashore in the Caribbean, impacting shorelines and beaches, waterways, fisheries and tourism. “It is believed that the recent influxes are related to massive sargassum blooms occurring in particular areas of the Atlantic, not directly associated with the Sargasso Sea, where nutrients are available and temperatures are high” (Doyle and Franks, 2015).
The response to the sargassum influx has often been a knee-jerk reaction - uncoordinated and not always environmentally sustainable. Bad choices that are made in responding to sargassum place at risk the very resources upon which tourism depends – poor beach cleaning practices cause the loss of sandy beaches, worsened coastal erosion, the destruction of sea turtle and sea bird nests. But important lessons have been learned.
As the organizer of the region’s largest annual marine science meeting, GCFI has brought together researchers and coastal managers to examine the latest advances in science and to share management experience in relation to this emerging issue. A GCFI Fact Sheet about the sargassum influx addresses frequently asked questions (Doyle and Franks, 2015). A briefing paper prepared with key regional partners provides guidance for coastal managers (Hinds et al. 2016).
Now in early 2018, with an influx of sargassum again affecting parts of the Caribbean region, the GCFI is responding to the tourism sector’s urgent need for information on how to deal with this recurring phenomenon (Doyle et al. 2018).
GCFI’s sargassum factsheet and poster can be downloaded here:
A sargassum management briefing paper by key regional partners CERMES, SPAW-RAC and GCFI provides further guidance for coastal managers and can be downloaded here:
DCNA is currently working on a briefing paper on the sustainable management of sargassum with a focus on prevention and clean-up of bay habitats (including seagrass beds and mangroves).