Exploring whether Sargassum can be used safely in agriculture

Story by SHASTRI BOODAN Photos by VINDRA GOPAUL

Mounds of Sargassum at Hope Bay, Tobago. (Image: VINDRA GOPAUL)

There are moves to begin exploring and researching whether Sargassum can be used safely as fertiliser in the agriculture sector, as beaches around Tobago continue to be plagued by the seaweed.

Tobago’s Sargassum Response Committee has developed a project, which will involve extensive research into the safety of Sargassum for agriculture use.

According to Howard Mario Robin—a Climate Change Specialist with the Division of Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA)—Sargassum has the ability to absorb toxins and heavy metals.

In an interview on Tobago’s Channel 5, Robin explained that depending on where the Sargassum passes, it can extract toxins from that area and store it.

He confirmed that tests would be done on Sargassum where it is collected, to determine its toxicity levels.  Following testing, the Sargassum Response Committee would then advise where Sargassum may be collected to be used as a fertilizer.

Mounds of Sargassum at Hope Bay, Tobago. (Image: VINDRA GOPAUL)

Noting that Sargassum is home to many small fish and crabs, the Climate Change Specialist also advised against consuming fish caught in it, given the reality that the seaweed absorbs toxins and heavy metals from areas it traverses, which could contaminate the seafood.

Howard Mario Robin observed that the presence of Sargassum is the new normal in the Caribbean region and Tobago.

He advised persons to avoid beaches with a heavy build-up of Sargassum, since it gives out gases as sulphur dioxide and ammonia when decaying, which can cause respiratory problems and vision problems.

Robin also warned against persons venturing out into the seaweed since it is uncertain what species of fish and other sea life may be trapped within, which could be harmful to humans. According to the Climate Change Specialist, the highly toxic Portuguese Man of War Jellyfish is one such species that could be trapped in a Sargassum web.

Howard Mario Robin also reports that part of the research project includes the setting up of air quality stations in areas with a heavy Sargassum build up, as well as throughout Tobago. He said the findings from the monitors would be used to advise the public and alert health authorities.

Mounds of Sargassum at Hope Bay, Tobago. (Image: VINDRA GOPAUL)