The British Virgin Islands, like the rest of the Caribbean region, first experienced extraordinary volumes of sargassum in their nearshore waters and washed up on their beaches in 2011. Since then, influxes have been arriving annually, at varying intensities, impacting critical industries (especially tourism and fishing) as well as the coastal environment.

Trellis Bay in Beef Island, Handsome Bay in Virgin Gorda and Road Town Harbour in Tortola are some of the locations most heavily impacted by sargassum influxes.

Country / Region

Ongoing efforts

The main goal of the national response to sargassum has been to reduce strandings along priority beaches, facilitate natural dispersion or decomposition and minimise potential negative impacts. The government’s management initiatives have included ongoing cleanup operations as well as public awareness-raising campaigns.

The government has coordinated community-based cleanup initiatives with a number of enterprises and community organizations. Due to the need for people and resources, the government has been working in collaboration with community groups, fisherfolk, and businesses on clean-up initiatives. In addition to the conventional removal methods, other mitigative techniques were attempted, for example, utilising docked boats as mobile flushing stations to clear marina channels of sargassum to minimize impacts.

Public education campaigns for have included handing out pamphlets, sending alerts to the public, and organizing public talks to explain the history of sargassum, its benefits and negative impacts, as responsible sargassum removal practices. Workshops for the tourist industry have also been incorporated in public education efforts to offer knowledge on appropriate responses.

A commitment to regional cooperation is also a part of the government’s response. For instance, in 2016, the Government, Virgin Unite, The Caribbean Council, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States collaborated to host a two-day regional sargassum conference on Moskito Island.

The British Virgin Islands is one of three territories participating in the Sustainable Sargassum Management in Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Montserrat project led by the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI). The project aims to enhance the knowledge, institutional frameworks, experience and commitment of  coastal and marine resource managers and users in Anguilla, BVI and Montserrat to manage the ecological and socio-economic risks from sargassum influxes. Under the project, a 2023 Draft Sargassum Adaptive Management Strategy (SAMS) was developed for the British Virgin Islands, primarily to “build resilience to threats from influxes of sargassum seaweed, turning the potential threats where possible into adaptive opportunities for sustainable development.”

Containment, collection and disposal

The first nationwide clean-up effort was conducted in 2015 and was coordinated by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration. During this exercise, volunteers removed 1,000 bags of sargassum from priority beaches. Since then the Government has been partnering with community groups, fisherfolk and businesses to remove sargassum.

Clean-up activities have focused on utilising hand tools/small machines to minimize sand removal from beaches. Manual removal, however, may not be feasible when sargassum influxes are exceptionally high on heavily used beaches. In these cases, the Government coordinates clean-up efforts using heavy machinery. During mass strandings, such as following the passage of Hurricane Dorian in August 2019, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration hired contractors to clean the shorelines using heavy equipment (e.g. customised backhoes to prevent sand removal).

Other mitigative techniques such utilising docked boats to flush marina channels have also been attempted.  Using boats as mobile flushing stations by continuously running their engines over a period of time, has proven effective but was not a cost-efficient long-term solution.  Nanny Cay marina has also been piloting the use of marine de-icers or circulators to assist in removing sargassum from the marina.

Regulations and legal instruments

Although there is currently no sargassum management committee in place, The Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour has been leading the response to sargassum influxes. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture along with other government agencies, businesses and community organisations have also been supporting efforts.

The Strategic Blue Economy Roadmap proposes the development of the National Ocean Governance / Blue Economy Coordination Committee which will implement the blue economy roadmap and provide an overview of marine management.

Monitoring, modeling and early warnings systems

In the past, coastlines were monitored to determine priority areas for clean-up. However, monitoring and surveillance of coastlines has reduced over recent years as priorities shifted post Hurricane Irma. In 2019, after the passage of Hurricane Dorian, an assessment was carried out using satellite imagery to identify various sites impacted by sargassum influxes.

Socioeconomic and environmental impacts

Sargassum inundations has been inundating ferry terminals, disrupting services and negatively affecting  guest arrival and departure experience. Visitors arriving through the Road Town Ferry Terminal are welcomed by the offensive odour of decomposing sargassum. While most visitors have a momentary encounter with the odour, marina workers contend with the stench for full workdays. Residents who use the dock, as well as passers-by and those in immediately vicinity are also affected by the smell.

Ferry operators have reported a similar issue at Trellis Bay.  Inundations have severely impacted businesses at the western end of Trellis bay. Ferry services have been forced to cease operations and divert services into Roadtown. Trellis Bay Market reported business sales losses of approximately 50% of total revenue during sargassum accumulation in the Bay. There was even an instance where sargassum prevented an ambulance boat carrying a patient from docking at the procedure drop-off zone.

Sargassum has also impacted operations of a desalination plant in Handsome Bay, Virgin Gorda. There was one instance in which sargassum clogged the intake pipe of the desalination plant, rendering the plant inoperable for nearly a year.

Some health impacts were also reported. In one case a resident with a severe respiratory illness had to repeatedly seek medical attention during sargassum strandings nearby. Ultimately the resident was advised by a medical practitioner to move from her home. Decomposing sargassum has also been correlated with the rusting of metallic objects such as vehicles and pipes etc. in nearby homes.

Potential uses

There have been reports of persons in the British Virgin Islands using sargassum as fertilizer, especially for ornamental plants. Other potential uses or applications of sargassum have not been explored by individuals, companies, or the Government.


Written by R. Speede

CERMES and CANARI. 2023. Draft British Virgin Islands Sargassum Adaptive Management Strategy. Volume 2: Action Appendices. University of the West Indies (UWI) Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), Barbados.

Smith, D. 2018. Seaweed Causing Ferry Dock Stink | Stench Welcoming Visitors. Accessed from

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