Sargassum influxes, now widely considered to be part of the ‘new normal’ have been impacting several Caribbean territories including Jamaica. Coastal areas in St. Mary, Portland, St. Thomas, Westmorland and St Catherine have borne the brunt of these influxes. These events have resulted in significant repercussions for coastal and marine ecosystems, their associated services, and key assets like tourism and fisheries.

There has been a united and collaborative effort to address the challenges presented by sargassum influxes. Both governmental bodies and private entities, including resorts, businesses, and research institutions, have joined forces to mitigate the impacts of sargassum on Jamaica’s coastlines. These efforts involve initiatives focused on cleanup activities and research and development endeavors.

Country / Region

Ongoing efforts

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has been the government agency spearheading the sargassum response. The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), and selected Parish Councils have also assisted NEPA in their response. Efforts have centered on coordinating and offering guidance for sargassum cleanup operations. Back in 2018, NEPA disseminated disposal and removal guidelines to hoteliers, beach operators, and community groups. These guidelines promoted non-invasive approaches, such as hand raking or beach raking, and advocated for the return of collected sand to the beach. NEPA has further extended support by allocating financial assistance from the Tourism Enhancement Fund to community groups for conducting cleanups, especially during significant sargassum influxes.

Collaborating extensively, NEPA has joined forces with various agencies, institutions, and organizations engaged in research initiatives. One notable partnership is with the Sargassum Research Group at UWI Mona, which focuses on innovative strategies to both manage and harness the potential value of this seaweed.

Containment, collection and disposal

Shoreline cleanup has been a top priority of the National Environmental and Planning Agency (NEPA). Their efforts have been targeted toward mitigating beach erosion and addressing the offensive odor emitted during the decomposition of sargassum. The worrisome impact of the 2015 sargassum influxes prompted the government to allocate an initial $5 million specifically for cleanup and disposal measures. Beachfront property operators have also taken action to safeguard the reputation of their properties by incorporating cleanup activities into their regular operations. However, when faced with substantial accumulations, NEPA steps in to assist and manage the cleanup efforts.

NEPA strongly discourages the use of heavy machinery, such as tractors or front-end loaders, for sargassum removal. Instead, they advocate for non-intrusive methods like hand raking or specialized beach raking equipment equipped with a perforated conveyor belt. In cases where extreme influxes necessitate machinery usage, prior permission from NEPA is advised. Additionally, NEPA recommends the return of any accumulated sand back to the beach.

Regarding disposal, NEPA suggests that sargassum be appropriately disposed of at designated off-site locations or buried on the beach where feasible and suitable. These measures align with NEPA’s strategy to not only manage sargassum influxes but also ensure environmentally friendly and sustainable cleanup practices.

Regulations and legal instruments

The Government of Jamaica has devised a National Sargassum Response Strategy, structured into three tiers to effectively manage sargassum influxes and their impacts.

The first tier of the strategy assigns the responsibility of routine daily clean-ups to beach property owners and operators. They are tasked with using methods like raking and burying the seaweed if the accumulation measures below three feet or approximately one meter. Moving to the second tier, the responsibility shifts to parish councils and other local authorities. They are mandated to step in and remove the seaweed if residents lack the capacity to do so themselves. The third tier involves the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), which intervenes in cases where there’s a substantial accumulation exceeding three feet. In such instances, the NSWMA assists in the removal of large quantities of seaweed, transporting it to designated disposal sites for proper management.

Monitoring, modeling and early warnings systems

Since 2018, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has been consistently monitoring public bathing beaches across Jamaica. Monitoring efforts primarily involve a combination of satellite based systems and on-ground observations, to predict sargassum influxes and effectively manage their impact. Tools including the Sargassum Watch System (SaWS), have been utilised in monitoring efforts.

NEPA has also partnered with a multidisciplinary team from the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. Under the “Teleconnected SARgassum risks across the Atlantic: building capacity for TRansformational Adaptation in the Caribbean and West Africa” (SARTRAC) project. The team engineered the Jamaica Sargassum Early Advisory System (JSEAS), which aims to assist with early detection of sargassum and timely dissemination of alerts, tailored to specific stakeholders such as fishing, tourism, critical infrastructure.

Socioeconomic and environmental impacts

Accumulations of large quantities of sargassum in both coastal waters and on beaches, especially on the northern coast, have affected various aspects of the country’s economy, environment, and society.

For fishers, whose livelihoods are dependent on healthy coastal and marine resources the sea, the influxes of sargassum have presented formidable challenges. There have been reports of threatened livelihoods as the seaweed entangles fishing nets, clogs propellers, stalls engines, decreases catches and forces fishers to travel longer distances and stay out longer to get decent catches.

Sargassum influxes have also become a worrisome problem for beachfront properties and tourism interests. Tourism operators, particularly in locations like Hellshire, Boardwalk Beach, and Fort Clarence, have experienced adverse effects. Some business operators reported substantial revenue losses as beach visitors opted to leave upon encountering the sargassum. This downturn in earnings has resulted in shortened working hours, which negatively impacts their livelihoods.

Sargassum strandings have also affected nearshore ecosystems. In 2021, a localised fish kill was reported at Half Moon Bay in Hellshire, St. Catherine. An analysis of water samples attributed the fish kill to sargassum caused be oxygen reduction in the water. There have also been reports of disrupted sea turtle nesting activities and beach erosion due to unsuitable removal methods which exacerbate the ecological challenges posed by sargassum influxes.

Potential uses

In August 2018, NEPA reached out to the Faculty of Science and Technology (FST) at the University of the West Indies (Mona) seeking collaboration to address the substantial amounts of sargassum seaweed impacting Jamaica’s coastline. In answer to this request, FST formed a sargassum research team in September 2018. Their primary goal was to investigate the possible commercial applications of sargassum. Research conducted by the FST encompassed a wide spectrum of potential applications, spanning multiple industries. These included investigating the feasibility of composting the seaweed, its utilization in mangrove nurseries, its potential as a component in food texturing compounds, exploration of its suitability for biofuel production, as well as its properties as an antimicrobial and anticancer agent. The International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences (ICENS), also based at UWI Mona, has also been conducting sargassum related research, notably investigating arsenic content within the seaweed.

Apart from research conducted at Mona, locals have also sought to capitalise on the potential of sargassum. For instance, Awganic Inputs, has become a prominent local commercial venture, processing sargassum and combining it with organic agro-processing waste to produce goat feed.


Written by R. Speede

Climate Launchpad. Awganic Feeds. Accessed from https://climatelaunchpad.org/finalists/awganic-feeds-2/

Ebanks, J. 2023. Sargassum Management in Jamaica: A National Response Strategy. Presentation at the Caribbean Annual Partners Meeting. Accessed from https://www.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/2023 08/Ebanks_Sargassum_Management_in_Jamaica_A_National_Response_Strategy.pdf

Jamaica Information Service. 2015. Government Allocates Initial $5 Million for Removal of Sargassum. Accessed from https://jis.gov.jm/government-allocates-initial-5-million-for-removal-of-sargassum/

Jamaica Information Service. 2015. NEPA Targets Multi-Agency Response to Reduce Sargassum Build-Up. Accessed from https://jis.gov.jm/nepa-targets-multi-agency-response-to-reduce-sargassum-build-up/

NACLA. 2020. Rethinking Sargassum Seaweed: Could It Be the New Normal in Jamaica? Accessed from https://nacla.org/news/2020/03/12/rethinking-sargassum-seaweed-jamaica

NEPA. 2020. Influx Of Sargassum On Jamaican Coastline. Accessed from: https://www.nepa.gov.jm/influx-sargassum-jamaican-coastline

Webber, M. 2019. Sargassum Seaweed Inundation Nuisance or Golden Opportunity. Presentation at a roundtable session at the Faculty of Science and Technology, Mona Campus, UWI, Jamaica.

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