KINGSTON – Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism and Co-Chair of the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCM), Edmund Bartlett, has said the unprecedented levels of Sargassum seaweed that washed up on Caribbean beaches in 2018 resulted in estimated clean-up costs of US$120 million.
In delivering opening remarks at GTRCM Roundtable on Sargassum at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Bartlett said that in addition to costly removal, “tourism stakeholders have become increasingly concerned about the seaweed’s unsightly appearance, visitor complaints and the possibility of reputational damage”.
“As active stakeholders in the sector, we understand the inestimable value of tourism to stable and prosperous Caribbean economies,” Bartlett said.
“Tourism remains the single most important catalyst of sustained economic livelihoods in the region,” he said and added that the Caribbean is “the most tourism-dependent region of the world, where it is the main economic sector in 16 out of 18 Caribbean states and supports close to three million jobs.”
Noting forecasts of a 12 per cent growth in tourist arrivals to the region for 2019, Bartlett said that despite such promising indicators and tourism’s historical resilience, “We remain well aware that the tourism sector is very fragile and prone to disruptive elements.”
“The last 10 years have witnessed an evolution of the threats facing the sector,” he said. “These threats have become more unpredictable and more devastating in their impact and certainly more difficult to manage.”
Since 2011, thick mats of seaweed have increased in density to generate an 8850-kilometer-long belt weighing 20 million metric tons, known as “the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt”, that extends from West Africa to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
Scientists believe this algae explosion in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea could signify a new normal and the Sargassum phenomenon is believed to be driven by a combination of man-made and natural factors, including climate change and increased sea surface temperature; change in regional winds and ocean current patterns; and an increased supply of nutrients from rivers, sewage and nitrogen-based fertilisers.
Based on the influx of Sargassum, the Jamaica Tourist Board said tourist arrivals on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast dropped an estimated 35 per cent in 2018 due to Sargassum washing up on the 480-kilometer-long stretch of otherwise pristine beaches. (CMC)