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Jun 2, 2022

Mitigating Sargassum in San Pedro

It has been several weeks since we showed you the devastating images of sargassum plaguing the coastline, particularly across tourist destinations. Today, we returned to the island town of San Pedro where the situation has improved somewhat, by mitigating efforts of hoteliers, but also the change of weather conditions. There is also a solution from a governmental perspective. Here’s a report from News Five’s Duane Moody.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

It washes ashore in waves – some days much worse than others – but sargassum, which is a natural phenomenon caused by climate change, continues to be a challenge for stakeholders in the tourism industry as well as government.  As it funnels pass the reef and ripples inwards, sargassum settles, rots and then gives off a pungent odor that is carried by the wind; it is also an eyesore.  But one thing for certain is that sargassum is here to stay.

 

Andre Perez

Andre Perez, Minister of Blue Economy

“We have to accept that sargassum is here to stay and that is a result of consequences of climate change. What we do is also mitigation so we have to be working with that.”

 

About three weeks ago, the accumulation of sargassum was jaw-dropping. Swaths of seaweed stretched from the shoreline up to three hundred and fifty feet into the water, causing beach erosion. Despite daily clean-up efforts by resorts, the situation only got worse. Today, shoveling sargassum into wheelbarrows and carting it away continued, but thanks to the current weather conditions, the algae is being pushed out to sea.

 

Andre Perez

“This is only temporary. Of course you know we had a weather over our country and the winds are shifted. Like this morning, the wind is blowing from the northeast and a very cool breeze. And yesterday I was on a flight going to Belize and I saw that there was no sargassum. So it switches and it changes. But that doesn’t mean you’re gonna sit down and say oh we deh alright now. No, it’s going to come back and it will be with a vengeance.”

 

To mitigate the issue, there must be input from hoteliers, stakeholders in the tourism industry, the San Pedro Town Council through the Sargassum Task Force, as well as a multi-ministerial approach. Grand Caribe and the folks over at Ramon’s Village Resort have put in place infrastructure to capture the sargassum, preventing it from beaching.

 

Einer Gomez

Einer Gomez, Resort Manager, Ramon’s Village Resort

“We have put in what we call booms to keep the sargassum from beaching and that has helped considerably and it has keeping us from doing less work – well when it is not as windy because when it is windy it goes pass the boom and we still have to clean it up.”

 

Environmental concerns aside, the mitigation of sargassum is economically taxing on stakeholders.

 

Einer Gomez

“For us it has affected us more financially where we have had to hire more personnel to clean the sargassum. As you know our beach is our prime treasure and we need to keep it clean. Normally, when the sargassum is affecting the way it has been for the last month, we hire more people or we take people from other departments to help clean it up and we take truckloads out of the beach and make sure that the beach is kept clean.”

 

Wolfgang Brandl, Managing Director, Matachica Resort & Cayo River Lodge

“We employ an additional eight people on a daily basis, including transportation, meals and all of that. They start at five-thirty in the morning and they don’t stop until four-thirty in the afternoon. We have three ATVs with trailers running the whole day just taking whatever they are piling up – taking it in the back where we have the land filling. But it is a daily battle and it’s very cost-intensive to run this operation. I mean it’s eight labourers that we are paying seven days a week.”

 

A plan by the Government of Belize, primarily the ministries of Climate Change, Tourism and Blue Economy to filter the sargassum before it beaches is to come on stream within a week or two.  It is a service from neighbouring Mexico which is used in Playa del Carmen, but the investment is expensive. It is a costly venture that G.O.B. is considering, but in a few weeks, a testing phase will take place in San Pedro.

 

Andre Perez

“A team from the three ministries went to Playa Del Carmen on an ambitious project that is being done in Playa. There is a company there that has a fleet on pontoon boats to look at how it is working with little barges on the side. What they do is capture the sargassum; they don’t wait for it to come to the shore because whenever the sargassum comes to the shore that’s when it ferments and you get that rotten smell of sulfuric acid. I think the air is sulfuric. The entire town these days you can smell it. We quickly realize that we may be at an advantage because of the reef. The reef can help us. Outside the reef the sargassum is coming to our shore but eventually there are cuts in the reef and these cuts make the sargassum funnels through and there is this long line of sargassum. So we believe that we can capture it there before it comes to shore. Whatever comes to shore is something that can easily be handled by the municipality or the resorts.”

 

The process, if successful, could be adopted and used across tourist destinations to mitigate the sargassum issue. Duane Moody for News Five.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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