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Jamaica exploring long-term solution to sargassum invasion

Published:Saturday | July 27, 2019 | 12:10 AMNickoy Wilson/Gleaner Writer

The Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre is now exploring long-term solutions to treat with the Caribbean-wide invasion of sargassum, which is estimated to have cost the region billions of dollars.

This was the revelation by Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett yesterday while speaking at a press conference immediately following a regional round-table session on ‘Sargassum and the Caribbean: Resilience, Innovation and Solutions’ at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Regional Headquarters in St Andrew.

Sargassum is a type of brown seaweed and numerous species are distributed throughout the temperate and tropical oceans of the world, where they inhabit shallow water and coral reefs. It often causes a foul odour, releasing fumes of sulphur compounds that rust metals, and damage modern conveniences.

“One [possible solution] is, of course, the sinking of the sargassum in the ocean – I think 200 metres down – but that by itself also asks some questions which they are beginning to try to answer, so the investigation will continue. The second was the possibility of reaping the sargassum in the wide ocean and then bringing it on shore for manufacturing or whatever technological applications where possible,” Bartlett said.

These suggestions were made during the forum by members of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Precision Engineering Research Group, who have developed a model that would allow them to harvest the sargassum at sea.

Bartlett said that the ultimate goal is to prevent the seaweed from getting ashore as short-term fixes are quite costly.

“I think NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) has been working with the task force now and they have been talking with us at the Tourism Enhancement Fund about methods of reaping and/or cleaning up of the beaches as the sargassum arrives, but we recognise the difficulty that presents, especially [as] the technology to do it is not very cheap, and also we don’t want to lose beach while we are cleaning it up, because of the problems with sargassum is that is get intertwined with the sand,” the minister said.

He added: “So we need to find a mechanism, we need to find a technology, that will allow for that reaping to take place without destroying the beaches,” he added.

So far, the shorelines of St Mary, Portland, St Thomas and St Catherine have seen deposits of the seaweed, but the north coast tourism belt remains largely unaffected.

The impact on tourism in Jamaica is not known.