Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Hol Chan Marine Reserve’s plan to combat sargassum yet to be implemented

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The beaches of San Pedro and many others across the country have been experiencing a heavy influx of brown algae known as sargassum in the past few weeks. This inconvenience makes the shoreline unattractive as the seaweed rots and threatens the island’s tourism industry. To address this problem, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve (HCMR) plans to obtain a “Harvester Machine” to help overcome the sargassum problem.
Last year, HCMR secured a $3.5 million loan from the Social Security Board (SSB) to address the situation. However, some people considered this move frivolous and believed the Government of Belize (GOB) should bear the expense. Nevertheless, HCMR management explained the need for the loan and what the project was all about.
The controversy started when the loan petition was published in a local newspaper. According to the public notice of investment by the SSB, the $3.5 million was used to facilitate HCMR’s obtaining and installing sargassum barriers and capital expenditures. However, HCMR’s Chairman Ian Pou explained there is more to the project than just installing barriers.
Last year, Pou noted that the plan was to capture as much sargassum as possible before it reached the coast and the beaches. The loan was not only to finance the installation of the floating barriers but also to purchase harvesters, which are boat-like machines that can pick up seaweed from the water. Pou said it would take approximately three harvesters and barriers to be placed by Tres Cocos and Mar de Tumbo channels. These are the planned areas where the harvesters will operate, collecting the sargassum, with another closer to the shore to collect any additional sargassum.

Proposed Sargassum barrier location

The sargassum will then be delivered to a pick-up area, where personnel from the San Pedro Town Council (SPTC) collect and dispose of it. Pou pointed out that the sargassum influx also affects the reef and the local marine life; hence, they got involved. He spoke about previous occasions when fish started dying due to the mats of sargassum suffocating species living near the shore. “As such, Hol Chan Marine Reserve is planning to take leadership to address this alarming matter,” said Pou. While there is no set plan or date for when this will happen, Pou mentioned that it “is still in the process and on its way.”

Sargassum Harvester

While Pou stated that many hoteliers and other stakeholders had pledged their support to the project, some tour guides were unsatisfied. President of the San Pedro Tour Guide Association, Philip “Billy” Leslie, shared last year that having a workforce to remove the sargassum is the best option to deal with the issue. He mentioned that such barriers might not work when the wind changes. Regarding the harvesters, Leslie noted the problem with the saturation of docks off the eastern coast of San Pedro would be another challenge.
Meanwhile, other islanders believe more in a natural approach. They referred to a method involving nature-based solutions, in which sea currents are identified, and the sargassum is guided to collection areas along the beaches. They also shared that removing the seaweed when it hits the shore is the best solution.

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