Government is considering hiring full-time crews to keep the island’s beaches sargassum free after unemployed workers in the NiCE programme removed 200 tons of the foul-smelling seaweed from Grand Cayman’s coastline in the space of two weeks.
Commerce Minister Joey Hew said the programme had been extended for two weeks to allow some of the participants to keep working on clearing the seaweed.
“We recognise this is an ongoing situation that will require continuous effort,” he said.
“The ministry has decided to extend the NiCE programme for a further two weeks as a pilot programme which will involve a small crew with additional equipment. That will allow us to better assess resources to manage the problem in the long term.”
Once that process is complete, he said government would evaluate the best strategy for keeping the beaches clear.
Beaches across the Caribbean and Central America have been inundated with sargassum in recent years and scientists predict the phenomenon will continue. In some islands and parts of Mexico the tourism industry has been impacted with white sand beaches almost permanently covered in seaweed. The impact in Cayman has been less severe, but several hotels and water-sports businesses have been affected at various times, and residents have complained of public beaches and verges piling up with sargassum.
Hew said a task force involving multiple government ministries had been set up and was actively working on a long term plan to keep the beaches clear.
He said, “The Caribbean and indeed the Cayman Islands have seen significant increase in sargassum influxes and in light of this situation there is a need for a proactive and collaborative approach. There is no simple solution.”
Under questioning from Opposition Leader Arden McLean, Hew acknowledged the bulk of the sargassum collected through the NiCE programme had gone to landfill.
He said the Department of Agriculture was examining the possibility of using it for fertiliser or feed but this had not been possible on a large scale during the NiCE programme. He said the focus had been on getting the beaches clear, and it would be left to the experts at the DoA to determine the feasibility of distributing the seaweed to farmers in future.
He said the high salt content was a potential issue.
McLean said Caymanians had been using sargassum on their land for years and suggested it should be made available to people who could use it at their own risk.
“This is not the first time that stuff came into this country. We gathered it, laid it out and let the rain beat it out and then we used it for fertiliser. All of a sudden now the salinity content is so high? I wonder if the sea has changed,” he said.
In all, 486 Caymanians and spouses of Caymanians were involved in the NiCE programme, Hew said. He said WORC staff had been on hand during registration to get details from as many people as possible in an effort to get them into training or long term work.