Sargassum houses turn seaweed invasion into economic opportunity

Omar Vazquez sits in the sargassum house that has captured international attention. - Photos: BlueGreen

As a child in Jalisco, Mexico, Omar Vazquez Sanchez became accustomed to hardship, living through periods of uncertainty and homelessness.

His mother, charged with caring for four children alone, struggled to keep pace with rental payments, and Vazquez says they often found themselves running from house to house.

The experience of surviving through cold and hunger on the streets imbued Vazquez, now the owner of garden business BlueGreen in Quintana Roo, with a driving life philosophy.

“I believe all human beings need and deserve a home,” he told the Cayman Compass.

Inspired by memories of his grandparents’ adobe house, a periodic place of refuge, Vazquez developed a low-cost alternative to cement, using a substance that has invaded Caribbean shores in recent years – sargassum seaweed.

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Through production of sargassum-based building blocks – Sargablocks, as his company calls them – he hopes to alleviate some of the poverty and suffering of families in Mexico and the Caribbean.

His first house built entirely out of sargassum blocks has captured international attention and headlines. The excitement generated by Casa Angelita, dedicated to his mother, has opened the doors to explore projects around the region.

“It’s something that has completely changed my life. It’s not something I was used to. But I started to analyse all of the things that happened to us as children … and with this house and the worldwide attention, I realise that God prepared me for this,” he said.

“It’s a perfect plan. You have to live through all of that to be able to do something so important.”

Vazquez said the concept for Sargablocks came to him as he lay in bed one night. He awoke, overwhelmed by memories of childhood, both good and bad. Recalling the warmth and kindness found at his grandparents’ home, he began mulling over the idea of recreating a similar adobe structure.

He already had experience turning sargassum into compost and fertiliser for his garden business, so he knew the plant and its structure well.

“I woke up full of energy to do something,” he said. “I spent all day creating formula after formula.”

Within one week, he said, he had produced 3,500 sargassum blocks, without the use of cement or artificial pastes.

“I don’t use anything that’s not natural, that’s not from the Earth,” he said.

In less than a month, he had constructed the first known sargassum house, which he hoped would serve as his office at the BlueGreen garden centre.

Instead, the structure captured headlines, and requests started rolling in. Vazquez said he has received inquiries from parties in the Dominican Republic, Martinique, Barbados and Jamaica.

On 24 Oct., he will travel to Guadeloupe for the first international sargassum tradeshow, Sarg’Expo.

In Mexico, he is now working with government support to open a Sargablock factory. In all, he hopes to open three, each of which should be able to produce 4,000 to 5,000 blocks a day.

“One house requires 2,000 blocks. So, we can produce two to three houses a day. Imagine the impact we can achieve,” he said, adding that the first donated sargassum house has already been provided to a family who lost their previous home to fire in Puerto Morelos, Mexico.

While Vazquez has also received interest from a luxury hotel looking for an eco-friendly construction option, his focus is on the social impact that his business can provide.

He wants to offer work and a second chance to adults struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, and pay well enough to dissuade migration out of Mexico.

“We clean beaches [of sargassum], so we do something environmentally positive. We generate work by building blocks and donating homes,” he said. “There is a positive environmental impact and also a positive social impact. …

“I’m going strong. Each day gives me more energy to continue forward with this.”

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