BARBADOS

Barbados, like the rest of the Caribbean region, first experienced extraordinary volumes of sargassum within their nearshore waters and washed up on their beaches in 2011. Since then, influxes have been arriving annually, at varying intensities, impacting critical industries (namely tourism and fishing) as well as the coastal environment. River Bay, Oistins, Skeete’s Bay, Consett Bay are some of the coastal communities greatly affected by inundations.

Country / Region

Ongoing efforts

More than a decade after the first inundation event, sargassum is still widely viewed as an environmental nuisance. The Government of Barbados and various stakeholders are keen to unearth opportunities to translate this raw material into profit. Some local entrepreneurs have developed products for agriculture (Red Diamond Compost), and beauty and personal care (OASIS Laboratory). Scientists at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus are actively conducting biochemical research on the potential applications of sargassum in several sectors such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and bioenergy.

The Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), at UWI, Cave Hill Campus, continue to spearhead sargassum research in Barbados. The central aim of CERMES’ ongoing ‘SargAdapt Project’ (full title: Adapting to a new reality: Managing responses to influxes of sargassum seaweed in the Eastern Caribbean as ecosystem hazards and opportunities) funded by the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund through their EbA Facility, is to reduce the impacts of and improve adaptation to sargassum influxes in Barbados and Eastern Caribbean. Ultimately, it is to see sargassum influxes beyond the perception of only a climate-linked hazard, and as an opportunity for socio-economic development.

Barbados deploys both a centralised national response to sargassum events, as well as local community responses. At the national level, the Office of the Prime Minister formed a Blue Economy team to manage the effects of sargassum influxes – comprises the Coastal Zone Management Unit, the Barbados Defence Force, Ministry of Agriculture and the Fisheries Division. The National Conservation Commission (NCC) is the primary government agency involved in coordinating sargassum clean-up exercises, and conduct them daily along the south and east coasts – the island’s windward coastlines that receive the greatest sargassum exposure. A Draft Sargassum Adaptive Management Strategy (SAMS) for Barbados (2021) was developed under a planning grant partnership between the then Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy (MMABE), UWI-CERMES and GEF Small Grants Programme UNDP.

In February 2022, Barbados became one of five beneficiaries of sargassum removal equipment valued at US$2 million, from the Government of Japan by way of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – under “The Project for Improving National Sargassum Management Capacities in the Caribbean.” It will aid in Barbados’ efforts towards finding avenues for industry in the face of this climate-linked crisis.

On a smaller scale, residents of some south coast communities have organised independent clean-ups; management of collection led by individual resorts particularly on the south coast, for nearby beaches

Containment, collection and disposal

Despite sargassum inundation being an issue to Barbados for a decade, the island has not been able to do much to contain the influxes. At the national level, the Blue Economy team work together to clear and remove sargassum from affected beaches using manual labour and heavy equipment. The MMABE obtained a sargassum seaweed harvester in 2020 to help manage sargassum influxes out to sea; however, the harvester was only used once on 9 July 2020 as a test in Consett Bay St. John in collaboration with the Barbados Coast Guard, the BADMC, the Ministry of Transport, Barbados Water Authority, and the Fisheries Division. The island is also expected to receive more equipment such as floating boom barriers, aquatic conveyors, work boats, machine surface beach rakes, tractors, and dump trucks through “The Project for Improving National Sargassum Management Capacities in the Caribbean”. One major hotel, The Crane Resort, bought and installed a seaweed boom to try to contain the sargassum to prevent mass strandings by their hotel; however, this method was not very effective as the boom only lasted for a short period. Sargassum has also affected fishers and has led to them developing novel approaches to deal with sargassum inundations. For example, fishers place a strainer over the engine propeller to prevent intake of seaweed.

https://gisbarbados.gov.bb/blog/collaborative-effort-to-harvest-sargassum-seaweed/

https://barbadostoday.bb/2021/03/28/relief-from-sargassum-seaweed-for-river-bay-residents/

Archibald, Yajaira. 2015. “Here Comes the Boom: Crane Resort Ramps up Fight against Sargassum Seaweed.” Loop News, September 30, 2015.

Regulations and legal instruments

The MMABE, now the Maritime and Blue Economy Division of the Ministry of Environment and National Beautification has been primarily involved in implementing the SAMS for Barbados.

Monitoring, modeling and early warnings systems

CERMES has been producing a forecast bulletin called the Sargassum Subregional Outlook Bulletin which provides the region with a prediction of the magnitude of sargassum influx events. Implications of the events on the tourism and fisheries sectors as well as the environment are provided. Like other Caribbean states, Barbados uses this bulletin to assist in preparing for possible sargassum inundations.

Socioeconomic and environmental impacts

Sargassum inundation occurs mainly on the east, southeast and south coasts with the west coast being generally unexposed due to the sheltered nature of the coastline. This influences which assets are impacted.

Barbados depends heavily on coastal tourism and consequently tourism assets are impacted by sargassum inundations. Tourism assets located on the affected coasts are impacted sargassum inundations. This has resulted in an unanticipated expense occurring to hotels as they now need to clean beaches to make them appealing to their guests. Another alternative is transporting guests to unaffected beaches which is also an unanticipated expense. Loss of employment has also been reported in affected tourism areas. The reduced hotel occupancy during influx events has also resulted in a loss of foreign exchange. Sargassum has also restricted access to recreational beaches for prolonged periods, as well as beach, water and air quality when seaweed rots.

Sargassum inundation has also impacted fisheries assets and resulted in decreased access to landing sites, or in some cases, cessation of fishing activity in some locations, along with a decline in the number of fishing days. There has also been a change in the fish caught with there being a decrease in fish size and decrease in catch of some species. However, there has been an increase in catch of some species such as juvenile dolphins, lobsters and billfishes. Occasionally, fishermen were required to navigate through sargassum which resulted damage to the engines of fishing vessels and corrosion of paint on the vessels.

There have been reports of respiratory health issues arising from exposure to hydrogen sulphide from rotting Sargassum, especially amongst fishers. Additionally, contact with seaweed has resulted in rashes, ear infections. When fishing gear becomes entangled or covered with sargassum, fishers must manipulate the gear to remove the sargassum which results in sore muscles.

Various ecosystems are impacted when sargassum inundations occur. The most impacted ecosystem is the sandy beach where erosion occurs due to inundations. Beaches have also been eroded due to the use of heavy machinery to remove sargassum from the beaches. Sargassum inundations not only affect the shore but also the sea as sargassum can decompose in the water leading to fouling of the water quality which can influence coral health. Additionally, it has been reported that sargassum inundations have resulted in algae blooms.

Potential uses

The Maritime and Blue Economy Division of the Ministry of Environment and National Beautification hires persons to collect sargassum from River Bay, St. Lucy which experience high magnitudes of sargassum inundation. The National Conservation Commission then transports the sargassum to Farley Hill, St. Peter where the sargassum is allowed to break down and become compost. Additionally, people on the island still continue to research sargassum and innovative ways to use the seaweed.

Sources

Written by J. Irvine and M. Small

Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, and Japanese International Cooperation Agency. 2019. “Fact-Finding Survey Regarding the Influx and Impacts of Sargassum Seaweed in the Caribbean Region.” Draft report. Belize: CRFM-JICA.

Government of Saint Lucia. 2014. Fifth National Biodiversity Report for Saint Lucia. CBD.

Sealys, Catherine. 2017. “Saint Lucia National Strategy for Management of Sargassum Influxes On Beaches, Bays and Small Harbours.” St. Lucia: CC4FISH.

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