EDITORIAL – A NiCE way to manage sargassum

Workers try to clear an influx of sargassum seaweed off the beach in South Sound last month - Photo: Alvaro Serey

As government works on a long-term strategy for managing unsightly (and awfully smelly) mounds of beached sargassum, it makes sense to call on the National Community Enhancement programme, known as NiCE, for assistance, as has been proposed.

After all, removing the sodden lumps of stinky seaweed requires a gentle touch – using removal strategies that are mindful of turtle nests and avoid causing unnecessary damage to the beach.

Properly done, sargassum removal is time-sensitive and labour-intensive work, but the alternative – leaving it to rot in foul-smelling and unattractive mounds potentially interfering with turtle nesting and unquestionably deterring the peaceful use of this precious natural resource – should be unthinkable. We have no doubt that NiCE crews would be up to the challenge. Their stellar track record of cleaning up, repairing and beautifying our public spaces has been a stalwart example, and longtime source of, national pride.

So much so, in fact, that this editorial board has even suggested expanding the annual cleanup project to a full-time endeavour. As we have written, with the number of visitors we welcome to our shores each year, and the vital importance of tourism to our economy, keeping our islands beautiful and in good repair is not only a year-round challenge, it should be a national priority. Putting our best foot forward helps to preserve our international reputation as a safe, idyllic and relaxing vacation destination. Failing to do so jeopardises the very same.

Here, at home, the NiCE programme fills an important need in our community, as has been clearly evident in the overwhelming interest spurred by every recruitment drive. Each time the programme is announced, hundreds of unemployed Caymanians turn out to participate – eager to earn decent wages for a week or two of work.

Last August, about 500 people – one-third of the estimated number of unemployed Caymanians at the time – signed up for an off-season NiCE clean-up. We expect an early summer programme would attract a similar crowd, willing and able to quickly and efficiently restore our beaches to pristine stretches of inviting white sand.

As we have argued, the NiCE programme is a highly efficient use of public money, offering willing participants the dignity of work while reducing reliance on social services. The money spent on wages stays on island, recirculating through local businesses and helping families purchase life’s necessities.

By deploying NiCE crews to tackle nuisance sargassum, government would put much-needed money in the pockets of unemployed Caymanians, giving them another opportunity to prove themselves and a possible leg-up in their search for full-time or regular employment. Perhaps some on these crews will even be inspired to explore entrepreneurial uses for the vegetation, which we hear can be turned into an excellent landfill or garden compost.

For nearly a decade, sargassum invasions have been part of Cayman’s ‘new normal’ – a trend which is only expected to continue, given environmental factors including a warming sea. An army of NiCE crews could be ready and able to mobilise whenever these flotillas of floating seaweed wash up upon our shores.

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  1. The beaches are our greatest resource. One that has been allowed to become our greatest source of blight from the detritus, garbage left, and washed ashore. It is an ongoing project. Beach conservation must fulfill a permanent department with employees working full shifts to rid us of this filth. There is no excuse for each and every beach site to look as pristine as the tourists and locals expect. Cayman is becoming a serious tourist destination with some of the finest hotels in the world right here. Why should the occupants of these hotels not have beautiful beaches to enjoy for the serious money they are spending.