The Dominican Republic, situated on the island of Hispaniola, boasts stunning coastlines that have long been the cornerstone of its thriving tourism industry. However, in recent years, the country has been grappling with substantial challenges caused by sargassum influxes along the eastern, northern, and southern provinces. Between 2015 and 2018, sargassum levels were observed at 50 locations across 15 provinces in the country, including Punta Cana, renowned as the country’s premier resort destination.

A concerted and collaborative effort has been underway in response to sargassum influxes.  State institutions, as well as resorts and private enterprises, have actively engaged in preparedness and responsive measures. These collective endeavors aim to address the impact of sargassum arrivals on the country’s coastal regions, especially those vital to the tourism industry.

Country / Region

Ongoing efforts

The formation of the Sargassum National Committee in 2015 marked a significant step in aligning efforts, engaging key ministries such as Environment, Tourism, Public Works, the Presidency, and representatives from tourism companies. Building upon this initiative, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, vested with decision-making authority through established action protocols, established the “Multisectoral Table for the Integral Management of Sargassum” in 2023. This newly formed board serves as a platform to convene stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, academia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and cooperation agencies. The board’s roles are to facilitate comprehensive discussions, create consensus on the implementation of actions for sargassum management and gather diverse perspectives to formulate a National Sargassum Sustainable Management Plan.

At COP28, the Dominican Republic has stepped onto the world platform, pushing for improved financing methods to combat the sargassum crisis. They’re urging the immediate activation of the damage and loss fund established during COP27, aimed at addressing crucial concerns like sargassum management.

Containment, collection and disposal

In response to the persistent challenge of sargassum influxes along its coastline, the Dominican Republic has implemented diverse and innovative cleanup methods. These approaches range from manual beach cleanups to on-shore mechanized solutions, advanced barriers and containment systems, and even specialized in-water harvesting techniques. These cleanup initiatives have been an all of society approach involving various stakeholders, including government agencies, hoteliers, fisherfolk, local communities, private businesses, and environmental organizations. Clean up brigades whether organized by government or hoteliers have provided employment opportunities for hundreds of individuals.

A few private companies in Dominican Republic have been pioneering forces behind innovative technological removal mechanisms both onshore and in-water. Among these is the Scarbat (Beach Trotters) machine, a beach cleaner used by some hotels for onshore removal. AlgaeNova, known for its suite of sophisticated systems including barriers, harvesting barges and cleaning vessels has been efficiently capturing and removing sargassum before it reaches the shorelines. The harvesting barge can harvest approximately 180 m3 of sargassum per day. SOS Carbon has developed a unique and innovative approach that has a dual benefit of in-water harvesting and carbon sequestration. It involves retrofitting artisanal fishing vessels with specialized hardware devices designed to efficiently harvest sargassum. The collected seaweed is then pumped to a depth of 200 meters below the ocean’s surface. Importantly, this innovative method involves fisherfolk, integrating them into the solution, creating opportunities for community involvement and empowerment.

The Dominican Republic has been significantly increasing its efforts in sargassum removal. In November 2020, the Fund for the Mitigation and Management of Sargassum was established. This fund, amounting to a total of US$11,891,884.00, resulted from a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Tourism and the hotel industry, spearheaded by the National Association of Hotels and Restaurants of the Dominican Republic (ASONAHORES). Its purpose was to finance the implementation of a containment, collection, and disposal system for sargassum along a 45.4-kilometer stretch of selected coasts within the Verón – Punta Cana Municipal District.

In 2023, the Ministry of Tourism initiated a new program worth close to a million U.S. dollars, which saw the procurement of cleaning tractors to clear sargassum from popular beach destinations. Additionally, several trucks for storing the seaweed are part of this initiative. The machinery is initially being put into operation in Boca Chica, Juan Dolio, Palenque, and Barahona, locations that have experienced some of the most significant accumulations of sargassum seaweed.

Collected sargassum is usually either transported to disposal sites or repurposed.

Regulations and legal instruments

A Sargassum management strategy “Impacts and Challenges of the Sargasso in the Dominican Republic” was presented in November of 2019. Recently in 2023, the Multisectoral Roundtable for the Integral Management of Sargassum” proposed a management plan that encompasses several key components aimed at enhancing the management of sargassum influxes. It includes having an updated and reliable information center, monitoring the quantity and direction of sargassum in the ocean, implementing management solutions for priority or emergency areas, reducing vulnerability and health risks to people and, finally, promoting and facilitating the development of companies willing to use the seaweed.

The Government of the Dominican Republic has actively engaged in regional collaborations and agreements to address sargassum issues. For instance, the guidelines of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the working group of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) on sargassum, of the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) in the Caribbean Region.

Monitoring, modeling and early warnings systems

Monitoring efforts in the Dominican Republic 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), NOAA’s Experimental Weekly Sargassum Inundation Report and CLS’ SAMtool have been utilised in monitoring efforts.

The National Maritime Affairs Authority (ANAMAR) conducts a daily review of the sargassum forecasts generated by CLS and colloborates with the Control and Intelligence Center of the Dominican Navy to assess possible intervention needs. The intervention, if necessary, is discussed and validated with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. Additionally, ANAMAR receives requests from the tourism and fishing sectors about the arrival forecasts of sargassum.

Citizen science has been a valuable tool to gain insights into the presence and density of sargassum in coastal areas.  One notable initiative is the creation of a Facebook group called “Centro de Monitoreo de sargazo en Bávaro Punta Cana” (sargassum monitoring in Punta Cana). This Facebook group serves as a platform where both locals and tourists contribute by uploading photos and videos, reporting the current status of sargassum along the beaches of Punta Cana and Bavaro.

Socioeconomic and environmental impacts

The impacts of sargassum influxes in the Dominican Republic have been multifaceted and have affected various aspects of the country’s economy, environment, and society.

The Dominican Republic’s tourism industry has felt devastating effects. From the pungent odour, to the unsightly mounds of rotting vegetation, sargassum has been reducing the aesthetic appeal of the beaches, disrupting water-based activities, and leading to subsequent decrease in visitor arrivals and negative international press. The arrival of sargassum has been a significant economic burden on hoteliers who pay cleaning brigades and invest in specialised equipment such as barriers to maintain the aesthetics of the beach.

The presence of sargassum has also been deteriorating water quality and impacting marine life. Consequently, popular snorkeling and diving locations in Punta Cana, have witnessed a reduction in marine biodiversity, posing a risk to the quality of underwater experiences for tourists.

Sargassum accumulation creates severe complications for the local fishing community. There have been reports of  entangled fishing gear, entangled motors, damaged propellers, frequent equipment replacements, increased vessel maintenance costs and reduced catches. Ultimately, some fishers were forced to alter their fishing grounds or temporarily suspend fishing operations until the seaweed dissipates. This can lead to significant economic loss and food insecurity for them, their families, and their communities. Coastal residents have also been affected with reports of corrosion of metal infrastructure and boats, which is likely associated with the effects of hydrogen sulphide associated with decaying sargassum.

Interestingly, there have been reports of sargassum disrupting electricity generation, where at least 1,200 megawatts are produced in thermal power plants using seawater. Some plants were forced to stop operating or reduce their production because of the risk of internal damage due to the intrusion of sargassum.

Potential uses

There has been considerable interest in exploring potential uses for sargassum since 2015, when the Ministry of Environment called for proposals regarding the utilization of sargassum. Over the years the Dominican Republic has become a sargassum industry hub with the exploration of diverse applications of sargassum.

Apart from engineering marine technologies to combat sargassum influxes, Algaenova in alliance with the Punta Cana Group Foundation, installed the first multipurpose plant in the Dominican Republic for transforming sargassum into various uses. These include compost and biodegradable dishes and biogas. SOS Carbon has also been exporting sargassum to a cosmetic company called Origin by Ocean. EnergyAlgae, a multi-sectoral and multi-national initiative for developing sustainable sargassum uses in the Dominican Republic, has been experimenting with anaerobic digestors, using sargassum and organic waste as feedstock.

The Ministry of Higher Education has been a key supporter of sargassum research with an annual allocation of approximately 0.5 to 0.75 million USD from the National Fund for Science and Technology (FONDOCyT). Furthermore, earlier this year (2023)  the President announced the use of 1M USD for the financial support of research on sargassum. Some of the research areas include biogas production, composite material, activated carbon, biofertilizer production and bioactive compounds.

Research undertaken by the Technological Institute of Santo Domingo (INTEC) underscores the need for further research on the chemical and organic composition of sargassum reaching the Dominican Republic’s coasts, before considering its use in agricultural and animal feed applications. A series of studies conducted in 2015, 2019 and 2021 by INTEC revealed high concentrations of arsenic, exceeding international limits for agricultural use and animal feeding.


Written by R. Speede

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