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See Sargassum as opportunity


PHILIP HUNTE

See Sargassum as opportunity

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BELABOURING THE FACT that our coastlines are inundated with Sargassum weed and that it will ruin our tourism industry should not force us into throwing our hands up and saying all is lost.

Sargassum weed occurs in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Its movement to beaches in the Caribbean is a regular occurrence. Its presence on Barbadian beaches is an annual event, though not of this magnitude. The weed itself is distributed throughout the temperate and tropical areas and there are several species.

There is no conclusive proof as to why this year’s accumulation is of this magnitude, though scientists may speculate by apportioning this proliferation to climate change. But the whole idea is that we change this threat into an opportunity.

Sargassum may have been a cyclical phenomenon, but just like El Nino, La Nina, and plate techtonics, we are now discovering it. We need not to look at the short-term threat but see it in the wider context.

From research, the Sargassum weed family has several applications as both a food for humans and animals, and as a fertiliser.

Its chemical composition with trace elements, iodine, iron, nitrogen, potassium, sodium, phosphorous and magnesium offer potential as a plant growth enhancer. Mixed with other vegetative material, it can make a compost for soil improvement.

The common practice is to bury the weed in the sand, somewhat like an ostrich, and not find more novel and fruitful usage for this resource. One company has advertised purchasing it at $50 per tonne, but that in itself is hard work and somewhat exploitative. How much would the processed product cost?

A better idea would be to harvest the weed and deposit it in central locations, en masse, perhaps on some of the public land, have farmers come and collect it, and pay a nominal fee.

We don’t have to see it as any individual capitalist effort to make all the profits. This weed could then be taken to farms where it could be composted or processed.

Similarly, we could place it on land near to the Graeme Hall Swamp, wash out the salt, let this leachate go into the swamp and put all the weed to dry, and harvest it. This is where the application of science to agriculture comes into play.

An urgent national effort is required in dealing with the Sargassum weed. It was used in the 19th and 20th century in France, the Scottish Islands, Scandinavia, the Gotland peninsula, to feed calves, pigs and sheep. It was used in World War I when there were feed shortages.

It can be dried for storage for animal feed. Though requiring hard work, it can pay off in the long run. It could dramatically help increase soil fertility if composted with other vegetative material, and can be used as animal feed.

There is evidence that as a feed it is equal to natural feeds in terms of outcomes in the growth of livestock.

There needs to be a plan for the use of this weed. Introduce the plan to the farming community. Introduce models of how and where the applications of Sargassum weed have worked successfully in other communities – as a fertiliser, feed, mulch and food. Seek the necessary Cabinet approval for its use and then vigorously market the ideas and distribute the by-products to farmers. There is no need to throw our hands into the air.

– PHILIP HUNTE

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