Heads or Tails? (Sargassum Poem)

Written and performed by Cyndi Celeste

Since 2011,
The waves have been washing in
A new game for us to play
The tides roll in with a choice to make
Riding on their coat tails

The details are simple
Two options for perception
Two sides of the same single coin to choose from
And the familiar question:
“Heads, or Tails?”

On one side – let’s call it tails
The sea sends in sargassum as the brown tide
This maritime menace migrates across the Atlantic
A pelagic passenger riding waves
To make its way to our shores
With whatever trouble it has in store
Forged by climate change and fertilized by nutrients
Into rich growth

Its mischief won’t stop at the coast, although
That is where the effects are most obviously seen
Golden-sanded beaches are easier to market
Than the stench of souring seaweed
But you see, sargassum
Doesn’t just present a cosmetic problem
Following the current trend it is a triple threat
To a fragile ecosystem

How the fishermen see less and less
Of the fish species the local markets like the best
Or the day-boat captains whose vessels
Have to circumvent the seaweed maze
Lest their craft fall prey to a damaged propeller
Or a rudder’s inner workings ripped asunder

Those living near the coastline
When the air is infused not just with brine
But also with ammonia and hydrogen sulphide
Whose health will suffer over time
From prolonged exposure
The inland population might not escape either
If the sweat of sargassum seeps into the groundwater
How it can become a showstopper
Destabilising a desalination plant in St Croix
To halt the production of water
Or creeping into a Puerto Rican plant
To cut of the power

And if we want to talk sense/cents and dollars
Instead of thinking about foreign exchange
From overseas adventurers
Perhaps clean-up costs are the big line item
We should care more about

The coin is up in the air
And if tails isn’t sounding so good, then have no fear
Because there’s another side to mull over
One where trash could turn itself into treasure

Where the filth can be made fuel or fertiliser
Where masses of sargassum
Could be made into medicines
Let’s call this side heads

Where a menace can be made a muse instead
Used to inspire innovation and industry
And if you don’t believe me then I’d show you
The people taking advantage
Of the nascent possibilities
The ingenious making sargassum supplements
To feed their livestock
Or turning the tonnes coming piled high
Into building blocks

The ones
Trying to add the seaweed stock
To sustainable markets already on the rise
Like bio-energy, like bio-degradables
Like the types of enterprise
That could take a scourge
And realise they have the power
To turn the brown tide
Into a golden fuel

This side,
Is daring you
To overcome the difficulties
To look at the challenges and decide
To wade through the uncertain seas

Because though it may sound better
That doesn’t mean it’s easy…

Supply may vastly vary
From one year to the next
There will be challenges to overcome
To harvest and process
Progress will take deep research
And many hands on deck
And for all we know,
Sargassum could be Pandora’s box dressed
Like a treasure chest

But even when the constraints
Test your patience
The important thing will be the strength
Of your will to make the difference
This is a trial of ingenuity and resilience
So, what’s your preference:
Heads or tails?

(© Cyndi Celeste 2022)

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