Update: Since writing this post several months ago our beaches have returned to their pristine and far more familiar beauty. If you are planning a trip to Barbados, you’ll once more find beautiful beaches. I am glad to know so much more about Sargassum Seaweed however, so if I ever see it again I will understand it. That said I’m glad it’s gone!
If you have been to Barbados or the Caribbean recently you may have noticed a lot of seaweed covering the island’s beaches. Not being on the island myself I really hadn’t heard much about it until my father mentioned it to me just a few weeks ago. Once he explained what was going on I was at once disturbed and intrigued.
To really get a clear understanding of the amount of seaweed moving to the shores of the island you have to know what the beaches usually look like.
This is how Barbadian beaches usually look:
Miami Beach (photos taken 2013 by Glenfield Lynch)
I’m surprised to see the new landscape of one of my favorite beaches.
Sargassum Seaweed on Miami Beach
These images challenged everything I knew of Barbadian beaches. I needed to find out a bit more about exactly what was happening to on our shores.
Sargassum Seaweed is largely found along the Gulf and moves along the Gulf Stream settling in an area of the Atlantic Ocean defined as the Sargasso Sea. The Sargasso Sea, named after this seaweed is bordered entirely by ocean currents. The Sargasso sea supports a unique eco system and its seaweed provides a shelter and home for a lot of ocean life including shrimp, crab and tuna and an endangered type of eel. Our eco system relies on this seaweed.
Some Sargassum seaweed can usually be found on the shores of the Caribbean. It seems there has even been occurrences before when what was then considered a good amount of it drifted to our shores but nothing in comparison to what is going on now. Warming tides and the effects of climate change are the most commonly cited reasons for the change. Regardless, the real question becomes what to do about it now it is here.
This seaweed might be good for our environment but not for our economy. Sargassum seaweed has a strong egg smell and piled high is a breeding ground for sand fleas. That’s not much of a selling point for tourists visiting who generally define the Caribbean by its white sandy beaches. The tourist industry is a vital part of the economic health of the island. It is important then that we address the state our the beaches.
National heritage is also important. There are no private beaches on the island of Barbados. We fought to keep our beaches open for all; especially the locals. It is important then that we keep them and protect them for the generations to follow. It’s hard to imagine that our beaches aren’t being endangered in the effort remove the seaweed from our shores by the large machinery being used. The National Conservation Commission of Barbados (NCC) has coordinated the clean up. “When you see these large machines in use,” according to the National Conservation Commission of Barbados’ (NCC) website “a representative from the relevant authority must be on site to oversee the use of the equipment.” The NCC of Barbados have also sought and organized volunteers to aid in the beach clean up.
So this seaweed clean up is progressing as best it can with conservation in mind. Beyond the benefits this seaweed provides to ocean life, it also has great horticultural applications. Gardeners should however consult the local Conservation Commissions about its proper handling and conditions for removal before seeking to add it to their gardens.
No matter how you look at it, the Sargassum seaweed piled high on the island is an issue. I hope we find a way around the damage it does to our tourist industry. For myself, I think it the perfect opportunity to point out how much more we have to offer in our rich culture than just the beaches! The island itself is beautiful and full of culture and history. There is always something to do in Barbados. Our beaches will return to their former pristine selves eventually in the meantime we’ll have to make the best of it.
Special thanks to my dad: Glenfield Lynch for all the photos taken, for your encouragement and support 🙂
Special thanks to all the volunteers working so hard to clean and preserve our beaches. Thank you.