Massive tides of Sargassum seaweed have become a recurring event in the Caribbean Sea. When washed ashore, Sargassum starts to decompose, resulting in the release of toxic hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which causes major environmental, health and economic problems in the area1. Not only are these recurrent Sargassum beaching events threatening already fragile and often endangered coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds, they also disrupt the livelihoods of communities, especially those associated with the tourism and fishing sectors1. Although, it is widely recognized that Sargassum has potential to be used as fertilizer, compost or biofuel, Sargassum value chains are still non-existing, mostly due to issues related to uneven appearances of Sargassum blooms, contaminant ions with heavy metals, and lack of appropriate Sargassum harvesting techniques.
The goal of this project is to develop a Sargassum Research Plan, including a consortium of partners (Industry, Research Institutes, NGOs, Universities) for implementation, that will identify solutions to the environmental and economic problems caused by the massive Sargassum beaching in the Dutch Caribbean islands. The approaches described in this research plan will be based on an extensive review of literature on the ecology of Sargassum, existing initiatives to predict, avoid and/or use Sargassum blooms and identifying ongoing research and knowledge exchange with relevant Dutch and International parties involved. Specific goals are:
Provide an overview of the current state of the art on research on the ecology, origin and existing prediction systems of Sargassum blooms. This information is of interest to commercial companies that want to harvest Sargassum at sea, and to local authorities (OLB) coastal managers (STINAPA) and other stakeholders (tourist industry) to timely protect their coastline against Sargassum beaching events.
Provide an overview on the state of the art on monitoring of environmental impact of Sargassum beaching events and currently used Sargassum clean-up methods on coastal key habitats (e.g. seagrass beds, mangroves, coral reefs). The gained knowledge will aid the development of a Sargassum Action Plan (SAP) by island authorities (OLB) and nature conservation partners to adequately respond in the event of an approaching Sargassum bloom, in order to limit its negative economic and ecological impact.
Define approaches, including advantages and disadvantages, for clean-up, harvesting and storage methods for Sargassum biomass at sea for commercial use and/or to prevent Sargassum from washing ashore where its impact on the environment is most severe. Comparative studies of the most relevant options will be carried out.
Map advantages and disadvantages of the promising technologies to valorize the collected Sargassum biomass into products (for example biogas, liquid biofuel, bioplastics and fertilizers).
Exploration of feasibility of establishing new value chains with a continuity in supply of the biomass collaborating with seaweed cultivation projects in the area and identification of local and regional end-users.
Define a consortium of partners that will implement the Sargassum Research Plan and the Sargassum Action Plan