The below blog is from Feb 2015
When I lived in the mountains in northern Utah, shoveling snow was a seasonal torture that, living in the Caribbean, I do not miss. However, if things don’t change pretty soon, I might be replacing one seasonal torture for another. Sea grass, or “sargasso” as the locals call it, is becoming an equally never ending torture, and general pain in the grass, so to speak. This year has been the worst I have seen in my time here and many locals tell me this is the worst they have seen it ever as well.
Barbados sargasso this year
We clean the beach at the Tropicante each morning and a typical day’s cleaning might produce one or two wheel barrels of sea grass a day. This small amount of volume is
easily set aside to dry, where it will shrink to about 20% in size as the water leaves the vegetation, and the remainder we bury in the beach to decompose naturally the rest of
the way. In the fall, we typically see a few months, October and November, where the amounts become much heavier. Our two wheel barrels a day turns into 30, and the piles
become larger and the decomposition takes much longer. This year however, the sea grass is still coming into February, and in amounts that the city is having to pick it up with
backhoes and dump trucks, and pile it for decomposition elsewhere to protect the downtown tourist area from the foul smell and insects that infest the grass piles. The water is still of course clear and nice, but the shore is a mess and has required lots of extra work this year.
What locals call “sargasso” is actually something scientist refer to generically as “sargassum” or a sea grass that grows around the world. In the Atlantic Ocean, there is
something called the “Sargasso Sea” that is a floating changing mass of sea grass that covers the entire central portion of the northern Atlantic. It a swirling mass that results
from the ocean currents that move in different directions in that region, creating a collection of floating islands of sea grass. Christopher Columbus even noted the large masses in his journals, concerned his ships might get stuck in them. This is the source of the sea grass we are seeing on our shores now in Mahahual. On typical years, the majority of the sea grass spit out by this revolving mass ends up on the shores of eastern Caribbean islands or the east coast of the US. What gets past those islands, eventually makes it to
the western Caribbean shores. Because of the higher volume of grass that is being spit out this year, much more is making it to our shores now and it is coming for a much
longer duration. It has been at least double the amount we see typically in the fall, and it has been washing up at least double the amount of time so far this year.
There is a group called the Sargasso Sea Alliance, http://www.sargassoalliance.org/, that has lots of great information on the entire subject. Also, check this short video for a
good explanation of what the Sargasso Sea actually is. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUOkUkD2C2U The more I dug into the subject, the more interesting it has
become. A research scientist from University of West Virginia, who was recently in the Tropicante for the day on a cruise ship, contacted me after his return wanting me to send
him a sample so he could analyze it to determine what useful elements might be found in the grass. In some places, I discovered, it is dried and ground into a tea that even has medicinal purposes. How nice would that be to find a use for the stuff, and better yet, one that will produce local jobs!
Mahahual sargasso this year
If you believe cause and effect, then something is causing the unusual amount of sea grass we are seeing this year. Something is causing the Sargasso Sea to accumulate and
spit out, these huge amounts and most would agree, it is an environmental variable, or variables. Pollution, water temperature, alkaline … who knows! Not me. If Columbus
noted it, it is not a new phenomenon. Perhaps he travelled during a weather pattern similar to ours today? Perhaps the islands he saw were not nearly as big as the masses
today? All I know is that stuff is heavy, like snow in February, and it can stop any time now. My back, and the beach loving tourist would love that for sure!