The typically pristine shoreline along Seven Mile Beach has been covered in a massive amount of unsightly sargassum seaweed since Wednesday morning.
Clean-up operations were stalled Thursday as more seaweed was expected to wash ashore later in the day.
The Recreation, Parks and Cemeteries Unit of the Public Works Department has the job of removing the seaweed from public beaches, but the unit was unable to work on removing the seaweed on Thursday because the tractor that is used in such operations is in a shop for mechanical work.
“We will have to wait until tomorrow,” Recreation, Parks and Cemeteries Acting General Manager Mark Bothwell said, adding that the unit can sometimes clean up the seaweed by hand, but the amount of seaweed along Seven Mile Beach is too great for hand removal.
“Our crews have been tackling this issue for months now in the other districts,” Mr. Bothwell said. “As soon as it’s collected, there’s more in the water washing back onto beach, so it’s a never-ending process. Hopefully the wind and currents will take most of it back out to sea.”
According to Mr. Bothwell, hotels and condominiums are responsible for cleaning the seaweed in front of those properties.
Small piles of raked seaweed could be spotted in front of some hotels Thursday, but many hotels were waiting to begin their clean-up operations as more seaweed was expected to come in with the tide.
“We do have plans to clean it up,” said Danielle Sanjenko, water sports concierge at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
A huge mass of seaweed was floating in the water in front of the hotel, but Ms. Sanjenko said that once the next wave of seaweed comes in, the hotel will bring in a machine to clear it.
Comfort Suites staff raked some of the seaweed, but that hotel was also waiting to bring in a machine until the next wave washes ashore. Thomas Mason, general manager of the hotel, said they apologize to guests, stressing that it is an unusual occurrence, and they are willing to take guests to other areas of the island unaffected by the seaweed.
“It’s always disappointing,” Mr. Mason said. “But when we’re dealing with nature and ecosystems, it’s something that’s really beyond control.”
Few tourists could be found on Seven Mile Beach on Thursday, and fewer still could be found in the water, which was not only covered in the seaweed, but also unusually choppy.
Sue Clyma, visiting from Canada, said she saw the seaweed before it hit the shoreline Wednesday morning.
“It went as far as the eye can see,” Ms. Clyma said.
She said the seaweed was a “solid line” at least a couple miles long.
“I’ve heard of these floating masses and I was hoping not to see it,” Ms. Clyma said. “We hope it’s just a one-off thing.”
Glenn Salem, his wife Kathleen, and friends were staying at the Villas of the Galleon on Seven Mile Beach. He joked that they should be reimbursed the cost of their accommodations because of the poor quality of the water.
“We’ve been coming to Cayman since 1982 and have never seen anything like this,” he said.
Mr. Salem said it would not deter them from coming back to Cayman, but it might make their friends, first-time visitors who were promised calm and clean water, to think twice before booking a trip here again.
The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism issued a statement Thursday about the Seven Mile Beach seaweed.
“CIDOT is continuing to monitor the situation and will work with the relevant government departments responsible for the maintenance of beach quality and our tourism partners to ensure that, despite this unwelcomed intrusion, our guests are receiving the consistent Caymankind visitor experience our destination is known for offering,” the statement said, adding that the event is not isolated to the Cayman Islands.
“In recent years it has been appearing more frequently in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean,” the statement said.
Large clumps of sargassum have affected shorelines from Mexico to Barbados. In August, Trinidad declared the inundation of the seaweed an emergency situation and natural disaster.
Cayman’s Department of Environment also issued a statement about the influx of seaweed, which has been affecting other parts of the island, predominately the eastern districts and North Side, throughout the year to varying degrees.
“It is believed that the recent influxes are related to massive sargassum blooms occurring in particular areas of the Atlantic … where nutrients are available and temperatures are high,” the statement said. “The sargassum consolidates into large mats and is transported by ocean currents towards and throughout the Caribbean.”
High winds, caused by a cold front off the East Coast of the United States, are likely responsible for bringing the seaweed onto Seven Mile Beach, according to Cayman Islands Weather Service meteorologist Gilbert Miller.
The Department of Environment said hand-raking is the preferred method for seaweed removal, and that removal by mechanical means cannot be undertaken without consultation with the department and a letter of approval.
“Given that we are still in the active turtle nesting and hatching season, especially along Seven Mile Beach which has the highest density of nests, it is critical that no machinery is taken onto the beach without DoE approval,” the department pointed out in a statement.
According to the statement, the current influx is likely to affect the west coast of Grand Cayman until the middle of next week, after which winds are forecast to shift.