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The Sargassum Onslaught Hits San Pedro

Mar 10, 2023

The Sargassum Onslaught Hits San Pedro

It’s been nine years since sargassum has been drifting to our shorelines, but based on the amounts that are drifting ashore and the broad stretch of beaches that has already begun to cling to, the impact for 2023 is threatening to be the worst yet.  This year, even the southwestern portion of the island where the lagoon is situated has sargassum mats clung all the way up to the waterside near the mangroves. They started to drift in over a week ago. There’s a response effort that has just begun. This year, the San Pedro Town Council has linked up with a biodiversity scientist to manage the clean-up effort of the loads of sargassum rushing in from across the miles. It’s a simple approach, but if it is followed correctly, it should be effective enough. News Five’s Marion Ali reports.

Marion Ali, Reporting

The unsightly, pungent, brown algae known as sargassum has once again made its way to Belize, and in San Pedro, the shoreline has become an unpleasant experience for anyone who lives, works or vacations nearby. And while this year the forecast is that the amounts will be far more than previous years, Valentine Rosado says the clean-up process can be made much easier and effective by applying common sense.

Valentine Rosado

Valentine Rosado, Biodiversity Scientist

“We’re focused on nature-based solutions and if we understand how nature works, then we know how to place ourselves. If we go along the beach, like this morning some of the workers were going along the beach, raking and taking their wheelbarrows along the beach because you want to get the first line of sargassum that’s on the beach. Then they had to travel down for several hundred yards to an area where they’re piling it up for the trucks to come and pick it up. But if we know the currents, we don’t really have to do that. We just stay in one location and we go towards the sea and we take out the sargassum. If we take it out from this one location, then we pile it up, then the rest that’s outside is just going to come right in and fill in that void. Then your effort is a lot less because you only have to move from just a little bit off the shore to the pile. You don’t have to be traveling all along the beach, and you want to use those natural currents. An even the location where you’re going to pick up sargassum, you’re looking at the landscape and you find areas where the sargassum converges and that’s where you set up your collection points.”

Rosado is coordinating with the San Pedro Town Council on managing the cleanup of the sargassum this year. He says that aside from the approach, timeliness of the clean-up is also key.

Valentine Rosado

“The problem is overwhelming because we’re still dealing with ten, twelve days of sargassum that we still have in the water that hasn’t been taken out. And it is coming in large quantities but if we’re a lot more efficient, and we’re able to take it out much more quickly, then we don’t have to deal with an overwhelming situation like what we have right now. And something about the sargassum is it has these little like specialization filled with air that allow them to float, but the more time that they’re sitting out there on the beach, they begin to disintegrate and they form mud and it gets mushy and it’s a lot heavier and a lot more difficult to work with. Even standing in the sargassum when it has already started to decompose, it affects people’s skin, but if we target it early and if we were here from last week Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, getting it as it comes out it’s a lot easier to get out.”

Just today, the Social Security Board informed that it is lending the Hol Chan Marine Reserve three point five million dollars to install sargassum barriers. It is a loan that will be repaid over fifteen years at an interest rate of six point seven five percent. But Philip Leslie, who represents the San Pedro Tour Guide Association believes that having more manpower to remove the sargassum is the best way to go.

Philip Leslie

Philip Leslie, President, San Pedro Tour Guide Association

“We spend countless amounts of money trying to buy different types of equipment to contain it, to move it to this area and so forth, and what I’ve seen is this: what should work is just hire more people and move it away from the shoreline as fast as we could, that is the best solution. Because obtaining vessels that can’t even get in because we have too many docks, obtaining retainer walls that don’t work when the wind gets too high, all of that is wasted money. Why don’t we just hire more people and take it out as fast as we can?”

Michael Cain is a tour operator whose business lies on a pier in San Pedro. He told us today that his employees and his customers are impacted by the sargassum, and that in turn that affects his business.

Michael Cain

Michael Cain, Owner, Blue Heaven Dives and Tours

“We as dive masters, tour guide etc., that’s where we go in the water sometimes, especially at night and the stingrays and stuff hide underneath there. So when we go in there, most of the guys here work bare feet. They don’t work like me who have dive boots to go in the ocean. So they would get stuck on these things because they cannot see it and then they will have be out of work for like two or three days. Some tourists are not used to it. Some of them are allergic and get pretty sick and they don’t want to go back and do another dive because they’re starting to feel sick.”

Marion Ali

“Okay, so it’s affecting you economically…”

Michael Cain

“Yeah cause if a tourist go out and do a dive and come back here they don’t want to sit here and smell all that stench.”

For now, Valentine Rosado and the San Pedro Town Council will have to coordinate as best they know how to manage this year’s sargassum overload using the approach that he suggests.

Valentine Rosado

“Just like a hurricane, we know when the sargassum is about to come in and we have to be prepared. We have to have everything in place.”

Marion Ali

“Be proactive than reactive”

Valentine Rosado

“Yes, so as soon as it starts washing up on our shores we’re getting the sargassum out, so at least here for the first time. We’re trying to make sure that we have that sort of coordination.”

Marion Ali for News Five.