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Seaweed ashore

By RICHARDSON DHALAI and RALPH BANWARIE Thursday, May 7 2015

A NATURAL disaster in the making is how local government authorities and fisherfolk in east Trinidad are describing a thick blanket of seaweed that has carpeted over 20 miles of the East Trinidad coastline and beachfront.

“This is a real disaster in terms of the fishing industry because you can’t pull in your seine, because it only heavy with seaweed,” Esook Ali, president of the Cedros Fishing Association said yesterday.

“You can’t go out to sea because the seaweed not only getting caught in the nets but in the engines as well,” Ali said adding, “this is a big problem and we don’t know what can be done to reduce the amount of seaweed coming ashore. It is not like a pipe where you can turn it off.”

The “unprecedented” event started off with a few clumps of brownish coloured seaweed washing ashore along the Mayaro coastline in early April. However, this quickly transformed into large floating mats of seaweed which, almost four weeks later, have transformed the southeastern and Manzanilla beaches’ coastline into a virtual brown carpet bringing the fishing industry in the areas to a standstill and threatening to disrupt the turtle nesting season which occurs between March and August.

The seaweed, known as Sargassum, has also drifted to coastal villages along the southwestern peninsula, blanketing the coastline of the rural fishing villages of Cedros and Icacos with mounds of seaweed which Ali also described as, “an ecological disaster on par with an oil spill.”

Ali also pointed out that while small clumps of seaweed would drift onto the beaches every year, he has never witnessed such a large volume along the southwestern coastline. “I really don’t know if this is because of global warming or the changing weather patterns, so for now we just have to wait it out,” he said. Large floating drifts of seaweed have also been spotted by crews working on offshore platforms off Galeota. Mayaro/Rio Claro Regional Corporation (MRCRC) chairman Hazaree Ramdeen said the corporation had resorted to using backhoes to clear the beaches of the seaweed which he said stretched from Manzanilla to Galeota Bay.

“We have asked CEPEP for assistance but they may not be able to manage that kind of work, so for now we are using backhoes to collect the seaweed and stockpiling it at North Road, Mafeking,” Ramdeen said. He suggested that interested persons such as farmers would be able to use the seaweed as a form of fertiliser. Ramdeen too described this year’s influx of seaweed as “overwhelming.” He said he had never experienced any such similar incidents in his years as a councillor of the Eastern corporation or as a resident of the area.

Members of the Manatee Conservation Trust of Manzanilla also called for assistance from the relevant authorities to have the mounds of seaweed removed as it is causing some hindrance to the leatherback turtles which come to shore to nest. Michael Yankee James, and other members of the Trust told Newsday since the seaweed began washing ashore leather turtles were having difficulty in coming onto the beaches, their crawling being hampered by the volume. He said the turtles had to return to sea without laying their eggs. James said members made the effort to have some of the debris removed when the tide is low so as to assist the turtles, but he noted that when the tide rose it brought along more seaweeds. James said this is not the first time the sea weeds came ashore .

A report dated March 25, 2015 and titled “changing the status quo on Sargassum Seaweed” by the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA), Community Education Officer, Lori Lee Lum, noted that a similar event had occurred earlier this year on the windward side of Tobago with mats up to 0.6m thick having washed ashore at Pinfold Bay, King’s Bay, Hope Beach, Kilgwyn and Little Rockley Bay.

According to the IMA, scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi – Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL), had suggested that a new source of Sargassum was located in the tropical Atlantic Ocean, eastward of Brazil. The report stated further: “The Gulfweed was transported into the eastern Caribbean via the North Brazil Current, Guyana Current and Antilles Current.

“Once it arrived in the region, local oceanographic and meteorological conditions facilitated its spread. What was shown is the connectivity across the tropical Atlantic Ocean via currents.

There was no obvious linkage between this event and the Sargasso Sea.” However the report also posed a number of questions such as whether the Sargassum was a response to climate change, and what was causing the seaweed to bloom in such quantities at this new location.

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