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Sep 13, 2018

Placencia Villagers Battle Sargassum Invasion

Tonight we have part two of our report on Sargassum.  Aside from San Pedro, residents of the Placencia Peninsula are battling with the awful stench of decaying Sargassum that has piled up along the beaches.  Massive amounts of the Sargassum seaweed are covering miles of beach, posing a threat to the local tourism industry and the survival of many businesses that depend on the tourist dollar.  In the peninsula, beaches are eroding and the Sargassum has prompted villagers to come together to address the problem. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo reports.  

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

One of the top tourist destinations in Belize, the Placencia Peninsula sees tens of thousands of visitors every year. This year there is a threat to the local tourism industry and the livelihoods of hundreds of families who depend on tourist dollars. The threat comes in the form of a brown, foul and invasive macroalgae- Sargassum. Tons of it have washed up along the peninsula. It’s an eyesore. The decaying Sargassum reeks and it can cause health complications among humans and animals.

 

Jodie Yearwood Leslie

Jodie Yearwood Leslie, Treasurer, Placencia Village Council

“The dead Sargassum serves no purpose other than really just becoming a horrific problem for the village. The stench is horrible. It becomes toxic because the dead Sargassum puts off a gas called hydrosulfide which eventually is very dangerous because if you have anything that is made of metal, silver it turns it black in a matter of minutes. So if it is doing that then you can imagine what it is doing to our insides but our volunteers are sacrificing everything because we want our village cleaned up.”

 

The Sargassum is affecting the entire region. Several factors have created the perfect environment for a massive Sargassum bloom. Placencia villagers banded together earlier this month to collectively address the problem by digging a trench along the beach and dumping the dead Sargassum in as landfill.

 

Jodie Yearwood Leslie

They are basically pulling in the seagrass with pitchforks and buckets and shovels. They are putting it on the trench. We are then covering it back over with the sand to try to use as a landfill. We are to help the erosion by doing so. The brown Sargassum that you are seeing there as we are raking it in, there is a lot of controversies saying that you are going to disturb this; you are going to disturb that. The right of the matter is that there is nothing to be disturbed. Once the Sargassum turns that brown and is that close into shore everything in it is dead.”

 

As for the live Sargassum, boats and nets are being used to haul and steer it away from the peninsula.

 

Glen Eiley

Glen Eiley, Concern Resident, Placencia Village

We are taking old shrimp nets and we are putting on some buoys on the top and some legs on the bottom and then try to pull it beyond that island. When that happens we have a wide open area that is just going to go and end up in the gulf somewhere. We are in a pretty good geographic layout that once we move it from out shore it will then drift away.”

 

Massive amounts of the Sargassum are still present. The dead Sargassum is so dense that people can walk on top of it. It’s about five feet deep and causing major beach erosion.

 

Glen Eiley

“What is happening, the water is not breaking. It’s not lapping our shores so it does not build the sand. It comes from the underside and undermines the beach. So whenever we have a Sargassum bloom like this and piles up on our beach, we have major erosion. I am not an engineer by any trait but I was born and raised here and I have seen Sargassum all my life but never ever in my life, I would have imagined that this is what we have to contend with.”

 

Laurene Holcomb owns the White Horse Guest House in Hopkins Village and like many of the tourist-oriented businesses; Holcomb has been losing income due to the Sargassum invasion.

 

Laurene Holcomb

Laurene Holcomb, Owner, The White Horse Guest House 

“It is awful. The guests that come to stay with you, it was clear the other day. You can’t even tell them when it will be bad and of course, it hurts their vacation. It is a sad thing.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“Do you lose business?”

 

Laurene Holcomb

“Yes, of course.”

 

Glen Eiley

“We have to come up with a long-term strategy, the entire Caribbean, the entire country. So everybody is calling on the government right now. We know that they do not have the resource to throw at everybody but if someone would come in and give us the assurances that we will stand behind you.”

 

Jodie Yearwood Leslie

“I have had several people leave on the boat going to Honduras. They looked at us at the BTIA office and told us that we can’t stay here. Your beaches are not good. We understand that it is not your fault but we want to go somewhere where we can swim and that is not happening here. So if we lose our tourism or the delay of our tourism right now because of this means we are losing income. If we lose income and we lose our tourist, the government, therefore, loses a good share of their income.”

 

Government Minister responsible for tourism, Manuel Heredia Junior recently visited the peninsula. He says that the issue will be addressed on a regional level but in the meantime, a net will be deployed at sea to stop the Sargassum from reaching the shore.

 

Manuel Heredia Jr.

Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism

“It is a great concern. I think it is an emergency at this point. They will be putting a curtain along the stretch of the area that is being affected. It is a little expensive but together I think we can accomplish that. Or there are other ways that are looking at the alternative use of the material.”

 

OCEANA Vice President, Janelle Chanona says that the Sargassum has many alternative uses including in the culinary arts.

 

Janelle Chanona, Vice President, OCEANA Belize

“Earlier this year we saw restaurants in the Placencia community, they were putting it into food. It is a natural biological entity. They were using it in sauces and I think they were using it in breakfast dish and they use it as a sauce for dinner. Apparently, it is delicious. We have seen people using it as fertilizer. We have seen it dried out and created into protein powder to add to your shakes and different things.”

 

Janelle Chanona

The influx of Sargassum came with an amount of garbage; plastic and styrofoam cups and plates are among the trash.

 

Janelle Chanona

“We need to be looking at what we are putting into the ocean because what we are putting out into the natural environment, air and sea, is causing what we are seeing. Climate change is contributing towards this, the fact that so much pollution is getting into waterways and eventually into the sea. Even here at home, we are putting things directly into the sea that in no way should be there, grey water, effluence, sewage, and everything is going into the sea. Every action has a reaction and this is nature’s reaction to say well,’ you have to deal with this now’”.

 

Formed in 2015, the Sargassum Task Force met recently to create a strategic plan to deal with the problem. Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.

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