Seaweed causing problems for tourism-CFBC to research

The Sargassum seaweed has inundated coastal waters and beaches of several Caribbean islands, creating a ‘headache’ for tourism and other stakeholders throughout the region. But CFBC sees it as an opportunity for research involving some of their students.

Dr. Leighton Naraine is the director of Employee and Programme Development at the CFBC, and he spoke with about the importance of the research project. According to Dr. Naraine, the seaweed in such large quantities is creating a bad situation for Caribbean countries.

“It’s clogging up the beaches, where tourists and residents probably go for recreation, but it is also affecting the reef ecosystems. So, it’s a huge problem. All we can do right now is to clear up the beaches as they wash up on shore,” Dr. Naraine said.

He explained that Sargassum is rich in nutrients, and people use it for fertilizer mixing it with soil. But Dr. Naraine believes it should not be used in its pure form. He explained, “I thing it should be formulated with other types of material, so that it is not highly concentrated. Test would then be done to obtain various levels of concentrations, and the kinds of plants that are adapted to it.”

Research, testing and demonstrations are components of the Sargassum Seaweed Utilization Project. The programme development director indicated that with the assistance of Parks and Beaches the seaweed is being collected, as well as grass clippings from the normal work processes. The clipped grass will then be mixed with the seaweed, and some animal manure will be included, he explained.

Students in agriculture will be involved in the project, which will be done on a farm near Wash Ghaut – near Cayon.

“Once the formulation is determined, I think that various communities throughout the country can actually use it. We import a lot of peat moss, and it’s very expensive. If our formulation is a good substitute, it can replace the peat moss, while we have it,” Dr. Naraine outlined.

Using the seaweed formulation as a soil cover should also help to retain moisture in the soil while adding nutrients. “So, there are many ways you can look at it,” said Dr. Naraine.

But, some experts say that the seaweed must first be washed before using, and as a result, persons have been discouraged from using the seaweed for agricultural purposes. In the case of St. Kitts and Nevis, the use of water in this manner during a drought period is not welcomed. Dr. Naraine has a different view, that there is no need to wash it. “If we dry it, it should be fine. If it’s dried out, some of the salt content would dissipate, then the seaweed could be pulverized.”

But in regards to the salt found in the seaweed, it is not all bad news. Outside of washing using regular water supplies, Dr. Naraine suggests some alternatives. He informed, “Spreading it out will help to dissolve the salt when it rains. However, it is good for soils that are too acidic. The salt will help to neutralize the acid. It can also be composted to make liquid fertilizer, or mixed with other organic matter to make a richer composted soil. It is also good as a mulch to inhibit the growth of weeds and to help improve the water retention capacity of soil.”

One particular drawback, however, is that for the moment, dealing with Sargassum seaweed means investing in small-scaled type operations, said Dr. Naraine, as he described a processor using the seaweed in Barbados. On a larger scale, he said machinery is necessary.

Commenting on what he believes is the cause of the deluge of the Sargassum seaweed, Dr. Naraine said, “I believe the most significant cause of the impact we are seeing now are warmer water temperatures causing a bloom, in the sense of a more rapid growth, excessive growth. Some scientists are saying that it is because of additional nutrients going into the sea, but I think that the nutrients have always been going into the sea for a long time… I think the significant difference now is the warmer temperatures.”

These higher temperatures he attributes to climate change.

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