My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: SEA's research on Sargasso Seaweed Bloom of 2015 - How Global Warming will make Summer of 2016 see a bigger Bloom

Sunday, December 6, 2015

SEA's research on Sargasso Seaweed Bloom of 2015 - How Global Warming will make Summer of 2016 see a bigger Bloom

“Pressing future questions include the ecological impacts of inundation events on coral reefs, sea turtles and fisheries.  Continued Sargassum field observations are essential to these efforts.”

Comment made by researchers at SEA (Sea Education Association) on the Sargassum seaweed washing up on Caribbean and African shores

Seaweed seems to love washing up on Caribbean and even African shores!

In fact, Sargassum seaweed has been washing up on the shores of Jamaica and other Caribbean countries since July of 2015 as reported in the article “Stinking mats of seaweed piling up on Caribbean beaches”, published Monday, August 10, 2015, The Jamaica Observer.

Countries like Mexico, Jamaica and Barbados have been struggling to remove the mats of brown Sargassum which smell badly when it begins to rot in to hot sun.

Many beaches have cancelled visits by tourists, with NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) allocating as much a JA$5 million to clean up the Sargassum seaweed as reported in the article “Smelly Brown Seaweed Plagues Beaches, Government Allocates $5m Towards Cleanup”, Published Saturday October 24, 2015, The Jamaica Gleaner.

NEPA, however, has advised against eating the seaweed, as it's not known to be nutritious for humans but eat but makes great fertilizer a noted in the article “Seaweed no threat But don’t eat it, says NEPA”, published Wednesday, August 12, 2015, The Jamaica Observer.

since May of 2015, countries such as Guadeloupe and Barbados  have been dealing with the headache of cleanup as reported in the article “Barbados struggling to clear seaweed piles from beaches”, published Tuesday, May 05, 2015, The Jamaica Observer.

Meanwhile the Government of Grenada has plan to sell it to the Chinese as they can make it into fertilizer pending the results of research done by St George's University as reported in the article “Grenada mulls exporting seaweed to china”, published Wednesday, July 22, 2015, The Jamaica Observer.  

So what exactly is this Sargassum Seaweed and where exactly does it come from? More importantly, when it this going to end?

The Sargassum Seaweed Problem – Global Warming is making Seaweed Bloom

The Sargassum, which is Portuguese for Grape based on its small air-filled bladders, is a floating brownish algae that is endemic to the Sargasso Sea, a 2 million-square-mile (3 million-square-kilometre) body of warm water in the North Atlantic.

This sea is unique in that the Sargasso Sea is defined only by ocean currents. It lies within the Northern Atlantic Subtropical Gyre with the Gulf Stream establishes the Sargasso Sea's western boundary. To the north, the Sargasso Sea is bordered by the North Atlantic Current with the canary Current on the East and the North Atlantic Equatorial Current on the south.

The Sargasso Sea is home to the free-floating Sargassum Seaweed and is a major nursery for a lot of marine plants and animals such as the mahi-mahi, tuna, billfish, eels, shrimp, crabs and sea turtles. These creatures all se the Sargassum algae to spawn, feed or hide from predators, making them as important as coral reefs.

Apparently what has happened is that Global warming has made conditions quite right for these algae and they have thus begun to reproduce at an alarming rate. Scientists speculate that additional nutrients from the South America's Amazon and Orinoco Rivers mixing with warmer ocean temperatures is causing blooms of the Sargassum algae.

This is so much so that mats of the seaweed are washing up as far away as the Caribbean and even Sierra Leone and Ghana and wherever else the ocean currents seem to carry the brown seaweed.

SEA Sargasso Seaweed Research - Sargassum Seaweed bloom largest ever of a rare species

Recent research published in the September 2015 issue of the journal Oceanography by Drs. Jeffrey Schell, Amy Siuda, and Deb Goodwin of the SEA (Sea Education Association), have revealed some undersign information about these brown algae invaders as reported in the article “SEA Research reveals dominance of once-rare seaweed form”, published 2015-11-18, Go-Jamaica.

The SEA is a leading ocean education and research institution based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, has been researching previous seaweed blooms both in 2014 and 2015. They have been studying Sargassum in the field for about four (4) decades in an effort to understand more fully the ecosystems that rely upon this floating seaweed.

Their data sets are unique as they are one of the few oceanographic institutions that have long-term quantitative record of Sargassum abundance before and during these Caribbean inundation events.  Data on the seaweed was collected by the SEA faculty with the help of the institution’s 135-foot tall sailing ship, the SSV Corwith Cramer, from November 2014 to May 2015 and their merry crew made up mostly of SEA Semester undergraduate students.

During the period spanning from November 2014 to May 2015, the SSV Corwith Cramer travelled from the Canary Islands, traversed the Sargasso Sea and Western Tropical Atlantic to the Lesser Antilles, and then sailed the Eastern Caribbean before heading to New England.

The researchers at SEA have discovered that the Sargassum Seaweed consists of three (3) distinct species:

1.      S. natans I Parr
2.      S. fluitans Parr
3.      S. natans VIII Parr

S. natans I Parr and S. fluitans Parr were the most common in the North Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico but S. natans VIII Parr, which is mostly found in the Western Tropical Atlantic, Eastern Caribbean, and Antilles is a rare species.

In fact, the Sargassum seaweed found in the Sargasso Sea is mainly the S. natans I Parr but the samples collected from the Caribbean are mainly of the rare S. natans VIII Parr species.

This implies that the S. natans VIII Parr is coming from somewhere else, most likely the southern boundary of the Sargasso Sea known as the North Equatorial Recirculation Region.

Also based on the data that they have collected, the Sargassum blooms involved in the 2014-2015 Caribbean inundation are quite amazing:

1.      10 times greater in samples collected during autumn 2014 than 2011-12 inundation event
2.      300 times greater than that of any other autumn over the last two (2) decades of SEA research
This is beginning to look like something that will happen on a regular basis!

Sargassum Seaweed makes great Fertilizer – How the Summer of 2016 may see a bigger Bloom

So what to do with all this Sargassum seaweed? Since it’s organic, it can be collected and decomposed to make nitrogen-rich fertilizer, which would be a boon to Jamaican farming.

This idea was suggested by National Coordinator of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme)'s GEF Small Grants Programme David Bynoe in the article “Make use of seaweed”, published July 1, 2015 by Marlon Madden, Barbados Today who points to the seaweed as an opportunity that the Caribbean islands can take advantage of toe make revenue.

This can be done using solar vacuum pyrolysis as described in my blog article entitled “How to upgrade your Solar Desalinator to a Solar Cooker and make a Solar Foundry for Vacuum Pyrolysis”.  

Already several companies have created a business out of collecting the hard-to-remove Sargassum seaweed as noted in the article “Stinky Seaweed Spurs Invention”, published November 30, 2015 By Rebekah Kebede, The Beachwood Reporter.

Jamaica needs to undertake research into possibilities for the seaweed as with global warming making conditions favourable for the Sargassum seaweed. Expect seaweed blooms of this nature to become a more frequent event in the coming months towards the Summer 2016.

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