The large floating mats of algae provide shelter for juvenile fish, eels and sea turtles. Flying fish lay their eggs amid this tangled mass. A vast cast of eclectic critters, like the thumbnail-sized sargassum frog fish, live their entire lives within the weed.
At sea, sargassum provides vital shelter for a variety of species. Young turtle hatchlings even hitch rides on these floating mats, as they venture into the open ocean. But when the algae comes ashore in significant quantities, this beneficial relationship is betrayed.
When Johanan Dujon began harvesting sargassum in Saint Lucia in 2014, he collected 1,500 pounds of the seaweed. This year, with his company Algas Organics, he is on track to harvest 1 million pounds.
Inspired by memories of his grandparents’ adobe house, a periodic place of refuge, Omar Vazquez developed a low-cost alternative to cement, using a substance that has invaded Caribbean shores in recent years – sargassum seaweed.
To protect the paradisiac image of Caribbean beaches, sargassum control has risen as another pillar of the region’s tourist industry – and in Mexico, securing sargassum-control contracts has become competitive.
As Caribbean economies reel from the impacts of multiple years of sargassum invasions, a new field of research has emerged to find out what is fueling the phenomenon. The Cayman Compass talked to scientists from Barbados to Florida as they track the sargassum back to the source.
For large parts of the summer, sections of shoreline from South Sound to East End were smothered with a mass of sargassum. The only distinguishable scent was the potent sulphur-tinged odour of rotting seaweed.