Situation Report # 1 Sargassum Seaweed Event – Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Message: Large amounts of seaweed continue to be washed ashore in the states of Barbados, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Virgin Islands.   The Event:
From early July 2011, there have been reports from Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and the Virgin Islands of the presence of large amounts of seaweed along the shoreline and that much of it was being washed ashore. Stagnating seaweed was giving off hydrogen sulphide and the stench was of some concern to residents in the affected areas.

Winds and currents typically cause Sargassum to wash up on beaches beginning in May.  However, this year, there has been a proliferation of the seaweed in the Caribbean region, the exact cause of which is still uncertain. Mapping of the Sargassum done by Fisheries and Oceans Canada using MERIS imagery, suggests that more Sargassum may be about to arrive on Dominica.  The research also indicates that Saint Lucia and the rest of the Lesser Antilles can expect much heavier Sargassum slicks than usual during the remainder of August.  

The Sargassum seaweed has been affecting the east and south- east coast and in some cases the south of the island. There were large deposits in the River Bay, St. Lucy area and residents of the area have complained of the smell emanating from stagnating seaweed. In July 2011, the Coastal Zone Management Unit  reported  that, in the River Bay area, the sea had pushed the seaweed about three to four hundred metres inland and had choked the watercourse.  

Saint Lucia
Saint Lucia reported on July 20, 2011, that the Micoud Beach, Praslin Bay and Dennery Beach were affected by the seaweed deposits and the attendant stench was affecting nearby communities.  Fishermen in the area were also reportedly impacted as they could no longer bring their boats in or fish in the affected areas.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Large amounts of seaweed have also been deposited on St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ shores. There were no reports as of July 20, 2011 of malodorous scents affecting the communities in the affected areas.

Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands has reported sightings of the Sargassum weed blooms in its waters since early July as well as accumulations on parts of the coastline.  

National Actions:

With respect to the River Bay, St. Lucy Area, a site visit was conducted by a team comprising senior officials of the Ministry of Environment including the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU), Sanitation Service Authority (SSA), and the Drainage Division Unit.

A press conference was held on August 22, 2011 at the headquarters of the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) which also included officials from the CZMU, the National Conservation Commission (NCC) and the SSA.  Officials of both departments told the media that some difficulties are being experienced with the seaweed which is being deposited in the island’s coastal areas, particularly along the East Coast.  In particular, the large quantities of seaweed can impede use of the beaches as well as cause and odour when degraded.

Head of the DEM, Judy Thomas, has indicated that her Department along with other relevant authorities will be developing a Plan of Action to address the Sargassum seaweed issue.

Saint Lucia

The Saint Lucia National Emergency Management Organization reported that the National Committee on Hazardous Materials met on July 21, 2011 to discuss the seaweed event.

The National Conservation Authority conducted a site visit of the Micoud Beach, Praslin Bay and Dennery Beach areas to determine the extent of the impact.

Virgin Islands
Since July, the Virgin Islands Conservation and Fisheries Department has been issuing a number of information bulletins to the public informing them of what is taking place.  The public has been advised that Sargassum is distributed throughout oceans worldwide by prevailing winds, storms and ocean currents and that can be a probable cause of its abundance in the Virgin Islands at this time. The public has also been advised that there is no cause for concern at this time.

Regional Actions:
CDEMA will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as warranted.  CDEMA will also collaborate with regional specialist agencies to determine what, if any, interventions are required to address the situation.

Contact: The CDEMA 24 hour telephone contact number is 1-246-425-0386