You smell it, before you see it. That pungent rotten-egg scent that carries on the sea breeze is the ﬁrst warning sign of an unwelcome visitor to Cayman’s shores.
It was impossible to travel around Grand Cayman this summer without encountering sargassum. Thick brown clumps of the stringy seaweed clogged up coastal inlets and swamped beaches for weeks at a time. Hotels and condos were severely impacted. Residents suffered the suffocating odour and saw their beach access diminished. Crews of unemployed people were mobilised to clear the coastline while government and hoteliers were forced to shell out for specialist equipment to maintain the island’s pristine sandy beaches.
In comparison to some of our neighbours in the region, Cayman has been lucky. Seven Mile Beach has remained relatively unscathed and the efforts of business owners and government have kept the impact on tourism to a minimum. So far. Scientists agree that regular sargassum landings are likely to be the “new normal” for the Caribbean. For some countries, it may simply be a seasonal irritant; for others, it could be an existential threat to their tourism industries. Where Cayman will ﬁt within that spectrum remains to be seen.
In the first of a regular series, where we take a single issue and examine it from all angles, we take a deep dive into the sticky brown weed befouling beaches across the region. Starting today with a look at the impact on the island’s tourism industry, we will examine the cause and effect of the so-called sargassum invasion.
Over the next three weeks, we will study the science behind the phenomenon, delve into the economic toll it is taking on the region and highlight the solutions that researchers and innovative entrepreneurs are reaching for.