Since 2011 pelagic sargassum seaweed, endemic to the North Atlantic, has been accumulating in the equatorial Atlantic, and huge volumes are periodically transported by ocean currents to the Caribbean. Linked to ocean eutrophication and climate change, this unpredictable influx of sargassum is having devastating impacts on Caribbean coastal socio-ecological systems.
Eastern Caribbean islands typically receive upwards of 100 metric tonnes of sargassum per kilometer of beach per day during influx events. The amount of sargassum quickly becomes so overwhelming that it piles up along shorelines and/or becomes trapped in the water where it sinks and decomposes, resulting in high mortality of fishes, corals, seagrasses and many other species of the biodiverse communities of critical coastal ecosystems; and thus negatively impacts the ability of these natural marine communities to provide critical ecosystem services. These influxes also negatively impact the health and livelihoods of communities living in coastal areas and vital income-earning sectors of national economies. Furthermore, current removal mechanisms are frequently responsible for further damage to beaches and vulnerable coastal vegetation, and the continued cost of removal is unsustainable. The national and regional responses remain inadequate and ad hoc. There is therefore the need for increasing the capacity to cope and adapt at the local level and to facilitate support for action at the highest level.
The “Adapting to a new reality: Managing responses to influxes of sargassum seaweed in the Eastern Caribbean as ecosystem hazards and opportunities project” (SargAdapt) implemented by CERMES seeks to contribute to a better and more accessible knowledge-base, more informed and networked communities, and support for entrepreneurial activities to develop beneficial uses of sargassum. The project targets 10 coastal communities in 5 Eastern Caribbean Island States including Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
SargAdapt aims to reduce impacts of, and improve adaptation to, sargassum influxes in the Eastern Caribbean with emphasis on converting a climate-linked ecosystem hazard into an asset that supports opportunities for socio-economic development. This will include demonstration projects on mitigating sargassum threats and exploring sargassum uses for livelihood diversification and resilience in five communities across the five project countries. Further, SargAdapt will contribute to a better and more accessible knowledge-base, better-informed and networked communities, via gap-focussed primary research and improved ICT-based forecasting. The resulting cost-effective sustainable management of sargassum will reduce the current damage to coastal ecosystems and the services they provide, i.e. sandy beaches, coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves. This, in turn, will protect coastlines, coastal infrastructure critical to national economies, and coastal communities from climate impacts, such as sea level rise and storm surge and thus result in increased resilience of Eastern Caribbean societies to climate change.