Sargassum is a concern that is shared among our regional countries and has recently been plaguing our coastlines – and our tourism. Because of this, the BTB in conjunction with the Sargassum Task Force, has put together this resource for all visitors, locals, stakeholders and municipalities to refer to when it comes to Sargassum. Below you will find details on what the seaweed is, where it came from and how to handle this phenomenon that is impacting our tourism industry.
Sargassum is known as the brown algae that floats in sometimes mile-long clumps is accompanied by a very unpleasant ‘rotten egg’ stench when washed on the beach, as described by many of those unfortunate enough to get close. Sargassum is integral in the homes of marine life, though in recent years, piles of sargassum has invaded our shores, causing a strong blow to perhaps one of Belize’s biggest flows of income.
As for the origin of the seaweed, there are many sources alluding it might not have come from the Sargasso Sea on the North Atlantic as originally thought. In 2011, where the first bout of Sargasso graced the shores of Caribbean countries, many believed it derived from the Sargasso Sea that is found in the Atlantic. However, in 2015 it came back stronger and worse. According Science Mag, satellite imagery showed sargassum blooming off the coast of Brazil, stretching all the way to Africa and back, pushed by currents into the Caribbean. As for why the sudden proliferation, scientists are still researching to pinpoint the source.
Sargassum is not known to be extremely harmful to humans, not including the smell’s nuisance as it decomposes on Belize’s beaches. This odor, along with the piles of sargassum washing up onshore, are a direct threat to our tourism industry. Visitors do not want to be anywhere near the sight and smell of the sargassum, not to mention being unable to swim in the Caribbean Sea without getting caught up in the seaweed. Tourism is a driving force in Belize’s economy, and beachside hotels and restaurants are the primary establishments facing the threat of sargassum head-on. Many travel plans have been derailed or canceled completely at the concern of arriving to idyllic San Pedro or beautiful Placencia only to be greeted by the brown algae. Lack of beach access, increased cost for removal and not being able to conduct tours affect our tourism industry greatly. This is why it is imperative to properly combat the seaweed that is invading our shoreline.
Belize has been proactive in dealing with the influx of sargassum, conducting many projects and assisting properties that had been affected by the phenomenon. Some of these include:
- A Tax Relief to properties severely affected by sargassum.
- Duty exemption facility for machinery and equipment imported to support clean-up efforts.
- $1.5 million through the BTB to support municipalities in beach clean-up.
- The formation of a Sargassum Task Force (STF), comprising NEMO, the Fisheries Department, Ministry of Tourism, the BTB, Coastal Zone Management Authority, Ministry of Health, the BTIA, the BHA, stakeholders and representatives of the San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Hopkins and Placencia Village Councils.
- Municipal Relief Support which includes disposal sites, collection and disposal, and containment. These are the three main pillars when combatting sargassum.
- Awareness Campaigns launched on social media for tourists and stakeholders to be aware of what is being done and what are best practices when it comes to disposing of Sargassum.
- Forecasting, where a system has been developed to help predict the influx of sargassum on Belize’s coastline. The reports are issued every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday along with weather forecasts.
- The Forecasting system continues to be improved on accuracy of forecasting with support from regional Satellite Models, such as the SAWs Model, and a recently introduced European Model, and with a mechanism being developed with local airline Maya Island Air. This leads Belize to be one of the first countries in the region with a local forecasting system for the Sargassum.
- Working with properties for the methods of containment. On the northern side of Ambergris Caye, where there is a break in the reef, there is an influx of sargassum that crosses the barrier. The experimental installation of booms is a potential way to help with the volumes of sargassum. Booms are containment barriers that are designed to deflect the algae and help funnel them away from the shores.
- Spreading Awareness on best practices. This is a method we continue to do in informing stakeholders and municipalities through resources, press releases and social media in the best way to handle the sudden increase of seaweed.
There are many ways to properly deal with the sargassum that is affecting properties in Belize. However, just as there are proper ways to help, there are ways we do not recommend in containing and disposing of sargassum. Take a look below for the Do’s and Don’ts.
For Tourism Providers:
- If you decide to install barriers (booms) or diversion equipment kindly seek guidance on approval process from the Department of Environment.
- Listen to the local Sargassum Forecast reports given by the National Meteorological Service and act accordingly to minimize interruption to guest services and quality of products
- Have available brief information (printed or as a part of guest orientation) on what is Sargassum, to be made available to your guests, including that this is a Regional Phenomenon in the Caribbean, and is not only isolated to Belize.
- Distribute information only when there is an influx or official forecast for influx, or requested by the guests.
- For proper removal and disposal guidelines kindly contact your Local Government, and ensure that removal and disposal are being addressed in the most sustainable manner possible.
- If your guests report any health symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, skin rashes, or dizziness, kindly recommend that they see a certified medical practitioner.
- For beach front properties, do not let the Sargassum Accumulate over 48 hours. Remove from the water ASAP.
- Do not deny that Sargassum is seen as a nuisance or a problem for your guests
- Don’t let your guests get involved in the removal or disposal of the Sargassum
For Belizeans and Guests
- For proper removal and disposal of Sargassum kindly contact your Local Government.
- If you experience any of the following symptoms: difficulty breathing, skin rashes or dizziness kindly see your nearest medical practitioner.
- For more information on Sargassum kindly seek information from your Tourism Provider or via contact with the Belize Tourism Board.
- Refrain from direct and prolonged contact with Sargassum.
- If you see Sargassum accumulated on the shoreline avoid swimming in the affected area.
For Local Government or Destination Managers
- Have available information on general aspects of Sargassum and its influx to be made available via printed material, web-based content, or minimal public signage to provide to businesses, communities, and visitors.
- Use Manual Labour and light machinery to remove the sargassum from the water and clean beach areas to minimize the impact on the integrity of the beach, removal of sand, and on marine life.
- Establish with the Department of Environment, designated Disposal Areas
- Ensure the use of gloves and other protective gear, where possible, during the manual clean-up of Sargassum.
- Establish a Local Sargassum Committee or Task Force to develop a Destination Sargassum Management Plan to determine proper mechanism for Collection, Disposal and Use of the Sargassum.
- Contact other municipalities being impacted by sargassum for lessons learnt, best practices and supporting monitoring.
- Ensure that you establish and maintain periodic communication with relevant National Authorities to provide status updates and to request for support, when deemed necessary.
- Do not leave the general public in the dark on what you are doing to address the matter
- Do not use Heavy Machinery for removal of Sargassum from the Beach
If you’d like to learn more about sargassum, here are a few resources:
If you require assistance or guidance in the proper disposal of sargassum, or have any questions related to sargassum, feel free to reach out to these institutions:
- Department of the Environment: 822-2819
- Local government or community Task Force
- Listen to forecasts from the National Meteorological Service of Belize
- Belize Tourism Board: 227-2420 or belizetourismboard.org