The Seaweed Is Sure Piling Up Across Turks & Caicos
When waves of sargassum (a type of seaweed) washed up on Eastern Caribbean shores seven years ago, people hoped it was a one-off. But it has returned again and we're now seeing the effects across the Turks & Caicos
"In 2011 it was the first time we'd seen it," says Professor Hazel Oxenford, an expert in fisheries biology and management at the University of the West Indies.
"It came as a complete shock and no-one had a clue what to do with it."
Three years later the seaweed returned, in larger quantities. Over several months, it made its way through the Caribbean to southern Mexico, where its impact on Cancun's beaches made international headlines.
Now it is happening again and everything suggests 2018 could be the worst year yet.
"On satellite images the quantity that's being picked up is greater than ever before," says Prof Oxenford, who is based in Barbados.
"Certainly we've had it for longer and in huge amounts. And some of the islands are getting it for the first time."
Caribbean governments are acknowledging that the seaweed, which impacts on tourism, fisheries and wildlife, could pose a long-term threat.
"The same way we prepare for hurricanes, we have to prepare for sargassum," Antigua's environment minister said recently.
Cover image credit @isabella.mead
Long Bay Beach Has Seen Much More Than Usual
What is sargassum?
- Stringy, brown seaweed that spends its life floating
- Traditionally starts life in the Gulf of Mexico and is pushed by currents out into the North Atlantic to float in the Sargasso Sea
- Forms rafts that serve as vital feeding and breeding grounds for marine life
- Not harmful to humans and in small amounts, it can help nourish beaches
From the air huge blooms can be seen floating on the surface
Luckily it hasn't kept the kiteboarding crew from making the most of the wind over the past few days. No doubt the beach maintenance staff will have their hands full raking the beach to make sure its nice and clean for their guests. While it can be great for bringing much needed nutrients to the soil on land, it can get a bit smelly and attract insects which can but a downer on your beach days.
It's also been affecting the beach at the cruise port in Grand Turk which sees thousands of guests from overseas visit every day. Typically the water is crystal clear across the coastline, but the recent influx of the sargassum has forced many beachgoers out to the water and on to shore. While some don't mind and don't want to miss their chance to swim in the famed TCI waters, we hope that it can be cleaned up soon so it doesn't ruin too many people's visit to the beaches.
On the bright side, Grace Bay Beach still looks pretty clear from what we can see. If you have any other pictures or reports of seaweed on beaches across TCI please do let us know, we'd love to hear from you.