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Fwd: [carib-biodiversity] Sargassum report - NY Times

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  • Bruce Potter at IRF
    Well, it has certainly become invasive, if not alien ... [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 12 12:26 PM
      Well, it has certainly become "invasive," if not "alien"

      Begin forwarded message:

      > From: Bob Conrich <bob@...>
      > Date: October 12, 2011 6:42:01 AM GMT-07:00
      > To: Caribbean Biodiversity <caribbean-biodiversity@yahoogroups.com>
      > Subject: [carib-biodiversity] Sargassum report - NY Times
      > Reply-To: bob@...
      > New York Times
      > Update
      > Where�s the Beach? Under the Seaweed
      > Mark Yokoyama
      > Published: October 11, 2011
      > An invasion of seaweed that is extraordinary in volume and
      > geographic scope has been besieging the eastern Caribbean since June,
      > sending resorts and government agencies from Anguilla in the north
      > to Tobago in the south scrambling to rid beaches of the
      > smelly, brown, bug-attracting algae before the impending high season.
      > In Antigua, the $600-a-night St. James�s Club & Villas was forced to
      > close for the month of September while it removed 10,000
      > tons of seaweed from its beaches. The weed, a floating species of
      > algae known as Sargassum that inhabits the Sargasso Sea, had
      > completely filled the bay on which the hotel sits and created piles
      > as high as five feet tall on the usually pristine shore. In
      > St. Maarten, swimmers were warned away from some beaches because of
      > fears that they could get tangled in the seaweed and drown.
      > In Barbados, the government installed an oil-containment boom across
      > the mouth of a river on its northeast shore to keep the
      > weed at bay. In Tobago, where for several months workers have been
      > carting the stuff off beaches regularly and trucking it to
      > the dump, the government has been encouraging farmers to use it as
      > fertilizer.
      > �This is completely unprecedented,� said David Freestone, executive
      > director of the Sargasso Sea Alliance in Washington, which
      > has been fielding reports of unusual quantities of the seaweed
      > washing ashore in places as far-flung as Sierra Leone in West
      > Africa. While small amounts of Sargassum are normally found in the
      > Caribbean from May to September when regional currents and
      > winds transport the floating algae to the islands, such large
      > accumulations across so many regions, he said, has �never happened
      > in living memory.�
      > Theories as to why range from shifts in ocean currents to climate
      > change to the gulf oil spill. But at least for now, �it�s a
      > mystery,� Mr. Freestone said.
      > Resorts and tourism officials fear that the weed could linger into
      > high season, which starts in November, but anecdotal reports
      > suggest that the worst may be over. Ramon Roach, a water-quality
      > analyst for the Barbados Coastal Zone Management Unit who has
      > been part of the effort to clear the weed, said that in the last
      > week and a half, �we haven�t seen any additional seaweed coming
      > from the sea.�
      > And according to Jerald Ault, professor of marine biology and
      > fisheries at the University of Miami, cooler fall weather
      > traditionally slows algae�s growth, changes ocean circulation
      > patterns, water temperature and nutrient systems. These shifts, he
      > said, �typically keep the weed at sea.�
      > Though not a threat to human health, the seaweed, which attracts
      > flies and smells like rotten eggs as it decomposes, is a
      > nuisance at best and a repellent at worst. If it is thick in the
      > water it can harbor plastic and other garbage, making swimming
      > hazardous. Concerns that swimmers could become ensnared by it led
      > the Nature Foundation St. Maarten to issue a warning in August
      > advising swimmers to steer clear of Guana Bay Beach and Gibbs Bay,
      > which were inundated with Sargassum until a few weeks ago
      > when storms swept much of the algae to sea.
      > While there is still �quite a bit of weed washing ashore,� said
      > Tadzio Bervoets, director of the Nature Foundation, �the
      > situation has gotten better.� But for islands that depend on
      > tourism, that�s not enough. �Tourists don�t want to see it or smell
      > it; it can�t be there,� said Eli Fuller, owner of Adventure Antigua,
      > a tour company with an environmental bent, who has been
      > writing about the seaweed influx at antiguaisland.blogspot.com.
      > While many of Antigua�s beaches are free and clear of the
      > seaweed, he said, if a visitor �left their hotel and went for a
      > drive, say, to Half Moon Bay,� normally a beautiful eastern
      > beach, �they would find lots of weed on it.�
      > Accounts of the severity of the situation vary depending on whom you
      > ask, with hotel and tourism officials often painting rosier
      > pictures. In�s Bouchaut-Choisy, a director of the Saint-Barth�lemy
      > Tourism Committee, described the situation on St. Barts�s 22
      > beaches as �ribbons of algae� that are �decorating the sand� on only
      > three beaches: St. Jean, Lorient and Public.
      > Deborah Brosnan, a marine biologist who lives there and has been
      > chronicling the Sargassum phenomenon on BrosnanCenter.com, said
      > though amounts vary, �it�s on all the beaches.�
      > On nearby Anguilla, �it has been coming in droves,� said A. Nat
      > Hodge, editor and publisher of The Anguillian, a local
      > newspaper, saying that there was a surge at the beginning of the
      > month. Anguilla officials said that removal efforts have been
      > under way for weeks. �In some cases private contractors have been
      > commissioned to remove the weed,� said Candis Niles, director
      > of tourism for the Anguilla Tourist Board, �but in most cases,
      > business operators on the beach as well as community volunteers
      > are taking the initiative to clean up the seaweed on a regular basis
      > so that the appearance of the beaches is maintained.�
      > One consolation is that it is currently the rainy season in the
      > Caribbean when fewer tourists visit and some elite resorts on
      > islands like St. Barts are closed anyway. Nevertheless, islands are
      > worried that if word of messy beaches spreads, tourists may
      > decide to go elsewhere � even if the problem is resolved soon.
      > For anyone headed to the Caribbean before then, the probability of
      > finding a seaweed-covered beach is greater in some places
      > than others.
      > For the most part island governments and marine experts say, the
      > bulk of the seaweed is ending up on the eastern side of the
      > islands, where beaches tend to be rockier with fewer resorts.
      > On French St. Martin, northern beaches like the popular Orient Bay
      > and Le Galion as well as the east coast beaches have been the
      > most affected, said Jadira Veen, president of the Sint Maarten PRIDE
      > foundation, a nonprofit environmental awareness group. On
      > the Dutch side, Guana Bay Beach has been out of commission for
      > months because of the seaweed, she said. But hotel beaches are
      > likely to be assiduously tended, which can make a difference. Dawn
      > Beach, for example, which is also on the east coast and has
      > been faced with large amounts of seaweed, is mostly clear of it
      > because several hotels have been working hard to keep the beach
      > attractive for tourists, Ms. Veen said.
      > Meanwhile, Mullet Bay beach, Cupecoy beach and others on the western
      > side of the island �are still pristine white sandy beaches
      > as one expects in the Caribbean,� she said.
      > The seaweed invasion comes at time when Caribbean tourism has not
      > yet not fully recovered from the effects of the recession.
      > �Business has not been exactly booming,� said Rob Barrett, chairman
      > of Elite Island Resorts, which includes the St. James�s
      > Club, the hotel which was forced to close so that it could clear
      > thousands of tons of seaweed from its beach. �We are still in a
      > recovery period and then this hits,� he said. �It was just like an
      > onslaught. If you were standing behind it, you wouldn�t see
      > the ocean.� Mr. Barrett said that it took three backhoes and five 10-
      > ton dump trucks hauling seaweed �12 hours a day, 7 days a
      > week for 3 weeks� to clear the beach, which he said is now pristine.
      > The effort, combined with the loss of guests during the
      > closure, cost the company about $1 million.
      > There could be environmental fallout as well. Seaweed plays an
      > important role in the Caribbean ecosystem, and such large
      > quantities can have positive and negative effects. Sargassum can
      > help bulk up eroding beaches, for example. But large deposits
      > can also make it difficult for tiny sea turtle hatchlings to find
      > their way to the ocean. �It�s an intrusion on tourism,� Mr.
      > Ault said. �But the reality is it serves as fertilizer on beaches
      > and it may turn out to be extremely positive for fishery
      > resources,� because the seaweed becomes a refuge and a food source
      > for young fish and other sea creatures.
      > The big unknown is what happens next year. �The question of whether
      > it was an exception to the rule or representing some sort of
      > regime shift in the way ocean currents are operating is a pretty
      > major question,� said Jeff Ardron, director of the High Seas
      > Program for the Marine Conservation Institute in Washington, who has
      > been tracking the issue. A repeat, he said, could �strongly
      > indicate that something serious is afoot.�
      > ----------------------------------------------------------
      > Robert S. Conrich, ACIArb
      > Box 666
      > Anguilla bob@...
      > British West Indies Tel: 1 264 497 2505
      > ----------------------------------------------------------
      > --
      > ----------------------------------------------------------
      > Robert S. Conrich, ACIArb
      > Box 666
      > Anguilla bob@...
      > British West Indies Tel: 1 264 497 2505
      > ----------------------------------------------------------

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