27 June 2021
Why We Must Tackle Our Sargassum Issue
Over the past number of years, beaches and shores have been covered in sargassum. While this seaweed has some great environmental benefits and is crucial to supporting marine life, there are many issues when it washes up on shores. When on land, this seaweed can threaten both marine life and human life. Not to mention, these large blooms have the ability to discourage visitors and impact the tourism industry. Read on to find out more about sargassum and how we can use data monitoring to solve this prevalent issue.
What is Sargassum?
Sargassum is a type of seaweed that is free-floating. The ocean’s current causes it to travel in the water. Generally, people associate sargassum with being bad and do not want it in their waters. In actual fact, it allows coral reef ecosystems to thrive since it establishes a rich biological habitat. Sargassum is used as feeding grounds, shelter, and nurseries by more than 250 different kinds of fish. Given that, it is of huge importance to marine life.
What is causing an overflow of Sargassum?
Sargassum has been washing up on shores for years, affecting nearby sea life, spoiling beaches, and creating health implications for fishers, boaters, and beach visitors. Scientists traced the source of the sargassum arrival to a new accumulation zone. This zone spanned 5,500 miles, going all the way from Brazil to the coast of West Africa. It is known as the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt and contains approximately 200 million tonnes of seaweed, as reported in 2018. Before 2010, it was not an issue on anyone’s radar. The ocean currents bring it to the Caribbean, where local current patterns and wind affect where and when it lands on the beaches here.
Recently, satellite observations found an unprecedented belt of sargassum stretching all the way from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, experts are suggesting it is most likely here to stay. The floats of sargassum generally cover thousands of square miles and go incredibly deep into the ocean. So, what is causing this overflow of sargassum? The explosion of sargassum in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Oceans is thought to signify a new normal, according to US scientists. The factors driving the growth of sargassum are thought to be fertilizer use and deforestation. As a result of this, the seaweed has covered beaches, making them an environmental issue that has implications for marine life and human health.
Issues with Sargassum?
Sargassum is a growing issue. When large amounts of sargassum wash up on our beaches, it rots. This reduces the amount of oxygen in our coastal waters. Here, it releases methane and hydrogen sulfide. When it does this it traps fish, coral reefs, and marine life. It can have the ability to stabilize and nourish beaches, however, the sheer quantity of the seaweed can have the opposite effect. Beyond having huge implications for marine life, it is also bad for tourism, which many people depend on. The seaweed threatens the image of crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches that entice tourists to the area. When the sargassum begins to rot, it makes beaches smell like rotten eggs which further steer away tourists.
While further research is required, sargassum is hazardous to humans. When sargassum is in the ocean, it does not pose any threats to humans. However, when it has been washed up onto the shore, it begins to rot. When it does this, it releases ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. If humans inhale this even at low levels, it can cause irritation to the eyes and breathing difficulties. On the other hand, if they inhale it at high levels, sargassum can pose threats to their life. With this in mind, it is essential that action is taken to reduce the amount of sargassum overflowing on our beaches.
Benefits of Sargassum?
There have been occurrences where fish have died as a result of sargassum. This is because it blocks the sunlight which lowers oxygen production by seaweed and various other photosynthetic organisms within the water. Once the sargassum dies, the weed decomposes and uses up all oxygen within the water, therefore, causing marine life to die.
In saying that, there are some benefits to this kind of seaweed. Residents can use the seaweed since it does have its share of environmental benefits. In particular, farmers can make use of it as
a free resource in their gardens and use it as mulch, compost, or fertilizer. In addition, this kind of seaweed is a food source, nursery, and home for a wide range of marine life, including crabs, plants, shrimps, turtles, fish, and much more.
Moreover, it helps in developing sand dunes which are an excellent help when restoring eroded beaches. They can also serve as landfills and biofuel. While it has implications when found in large quantities, small amounts of sargassum are critical to marine life.
How can data monitoring make an impact?
It is crucial that we work to reduce the amount of sargassum arriving on our beach shores. We need the benefits of sargassum rather than the issues. This can be achieved via data monitoring. In other words, we need to further explore sargassum to find out how to reduce it.
RanMarine Technology developed the world’s first data harvesting surface vessel called the DataShark. It focuses on collecting and collating water quality health data from waterways in any environment. It provides real-time data logging with GPS tagging. The DataShark makes sure data collection is an accurate and quick process. This is all to ensure our waters are safe for everyone.
Sargassum can play an important role in our oceans. However, in recent years, large quantities of sargassum have been discovered on our beaches which poses great threats to marine life and human life. It is important that we act now to reduce the amount of sargassum washing up on our shores. However, it is even more crucial that we learn more about this kind of seaweed so that we can develop strategies to tackle this issue. Data monitoring could prove exemplary in helping us to find ways to reduce the sargassum on our beaches.