CARIBBEAN 360 – The proliferation of Sargassum seaweed is now affecting tourism, fishing, and marine life on both sides of the Atlantic, scientists say.
Sierra Leone’s white sand beaches may not be as famous as those of the Caribbean, but their hitherto unspoilt beauty had until quite recently exerted a magnetic attraction on locals and tourists alike.
Now, however, large areas of the scenic West African coastline are being fouled by thick brown algae that scientists link to the invasion affecting beaches thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic.
In some places along the waterfront in Sierra Leone, the strong-smelling algae is piled up several feet deep, attracting detritus and causing havoc for fishermen, according to a report in The Guardian.
Local rumours claiming that the seaweed is caused by pollution from iron ore mines are dismissed as unfounded by Vincent Sweeney, an official with the UN Environment Programme (Unep) in Nairobi, Kenya.
“This is not a localised phenomenon,” he said of the Sierra Leone invasion. “It is not as if there is a plume [of pollution] coming from a river and then seaweed grows. This is naturally occurring; it is a transatlantic phenomenon.”
Sweeney said that Unep had taken note and Sargassum was on the agenda: “It is one of the things we are considering as an emerging issue at the next UN environment assembly next May.
“Sargassum is naturally occurring. But before 2011 this quantity has never been witnessed. It is the intensity of it right now that is causing concern; 2015 is one of the most intense years we have seen and it’s affecting tourism, marine life and fisheries,” he said.
Marine biologists are also concerned that it is affecting the marine ecosystem, particularly turtles.
“Young turtles cannot climb over it to get to sea,” said Sweeney. “It is also affecting fisheries. Propellers get entangled in the seaweed.”
Authorities in the Caribbean have described the outbreak as a “natural disaster” threatening the largely tourist-dependent economies of the islands.