THE ISSUE: Sargassum some benefits to agriculture
MINISTER OF FINANCE and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler called it “downright scary” and “a potentially mammoth threat” that Government was allocating $1 million for the Ministry of the Environment to combat.
Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy said there was no “quick fix” to the problem, but saw a need to “put all of the different efforts together and to have something coherent by way of a response at different levels”.
Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) chief executive officer Sue Springer said the BHTA was gravely concerned about the issue, saw it as a threat to the tourism sector and was in discussions with private and public sector agencies “to try to find a solution”.
They were all talking about the sargassum seaweed that has inundated Barbados’ shores in recent months, leaving many beaches inaccessible, making life difficult for some fisherfolk, and threatening the survival of the turtle population.
The seaweed problem, which was at its most troublesome this year, has also affected other Caribbean islands, and countries beyond, including Mexico. In Barbados’ case, there are fears that it could have negative consequences for the tourism industry, which is the island’s main money earner.
It’s environmental impact, and the challenges it poses to the Ministry of the Environment’s management of the beaches has also caused major worry. In short, in most cases Barbados has seen sargassum seaweed as a tremendous bother, rather than an opportunity.
But what are the opportunities, especially those related to agriculture? One individual who thinks Barbadians should not see the seaweed as a threat is David Bynoe, national coordinator of the United Nations Development Programme’s Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme.
Speaking recently at a ceremony where a group of primary school students were recognised for their involvement in the Regional Entrepreneurship Agriculture Programme, Bynoe said: “See it as an opportunity…when you are going to use seaweed as a fertiliser, when you are going to use seaweed as a mulch, because these things are not just threats or crises, but they really present a tremendous opportunity for some value added.”
“From the seaweed you can have several products both in terms of animal feed, fertiliser, iodine and there are so many other beneficial uses of seaweed. There are places where you grow it just for the Japanese market. So we need to think about these things in a very scientific way.”
An analysis done by the Ministry of Agriculture more than three years ago found that sargassum seaweed had a nutrient content about of about one to 1.5 per cent nitrogen, 0.5 to 1.5 per cent phosphorous, and one to two per cent potassium. It was also pointed out in a Government Information Service (GIS) report that that since these nutrient concentrations were so small large amounts of the seaweed would be needed to “experience meaningful results”.
It was also important to note that seaweed has a high salt content, so that if it were applied directly to the soil, the soil’s alkalinity would increase.
“To treat sargassum seaweed for use as a fertiliser, the salt must be leached. Luckily, this seaweed normally surfaces during the rainy season, and the rain is very useful in diluting the salt from the seaweed. After collecting it from the beach, simply spread it out one to two inches thick and allow at least an hour of continuous rainfall for each inch,” the GIS report stated.
“It is also a good idea to chop the seaweed into smaller particles, as this will allow the nutrients to be released even faster. Composting is another option which makes the nutrients more readily available to plants. The seaweed should not be applied directly to plants. Instead, a drain should be dug between two plants and the seaweed placed along the middle,” it added.
Seaweed is also consumed in other countries, including Japan, and research is continuing to find other ways it can be incorporated into agriculture and other industries.
Sargassum seaweed could be turned from a negative into a positive. (FP)