Floating Migrations Mean Trouble for Coastal Communities
Each year during the spring and summer months, beaches in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico experience a sargassum algae migration. As of 2011, this vine-like seaweed has begun washing up onto beaches in record-breaking amounts causing economic problems for the world's most tourism-dependent communities.
Where does sargassum come from?
Originating in the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda, the sargassum algae -- also known as algas -- travel on the ocean's surface to populate areas throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The existence of this seaweed dates as far back as Christopher Columbus's time, but spikes weren't first recorded until 2011 and 2012 in the Greater and Lesser Antilles. It is still remains to be seen if this will become the "new normal."
What causes sargassum seaweed migrations?
There are several different theories that explain the increase in sargassum seaweed. The most popular explanations fault new weather patterns, such as higher temperatures and changing water currents, for the influx. Typically, cooler weather slows down the algae's growth, but as water temperatures rise the seaweed is more and more likely to flourish and deluge shores. Other theories suggest that an increase in sewage wastes being washed into the ocean are fueling the algae blooms.
What effects does the seaweed have?
The seaweed is not harmful to humans, but large quantities (like the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico coasts are experiencing) can pose several threats to coastal communities and ecosystems. Perhaps most significant is the decline of tourism industries as the news spreads and continues to discourage travelers who are expecting pristine beaches. Many beaches are left with mounds of rotting, pungent seaweed since it piles up faster than anyone can clean it. Additionally, the heavy buildup on the water makes it almost impossible for fisherman to fish, and accumulation on beaches is harming sea turtles, preventing nesting and, in some cases, causing coastal dead zones.
Off-gassing of decomposing sargassum can affect breathing, cause headaches and pose serious threats to health. It also corrodes electronics, appliances and other equipment.
What can be done to protect beaches?
Unfortunately, most common sargassum seaweed removal methods are inefficient—either relying on large equipment that erodes shorelines and disrupts the natural ecosystem or manual rakes that are extremely time consuming. Several coastal communities have recruited volunteers and cleanup crews to help keep the seaweed buildup under control, but with the huge amounts washing up day after day, the effort seems futile.
GEI Works solutions for the sargassum invasion
GEI Works provides a range of solutions to help prevent sargassum seaweed from inundating beaches. Because each application is different, there is no standard solution to every sargassum problem. We work with our customers to define the specific challenges in each unique situation and customize a solution to meet them.
Floating booms are one family of solutions designed to handle seaweed and floating debris. They help in three different ways. First, they can divert the aquatic plants to a designated portion of beach for easier cleanup. Second, they can form a floating corral to contain them for harvesting on the water's surface. Or third, they can create an exclusionary barrier around certain areas to keep them free of the floating material.
Booms come in standard lengths of 50 and 100 feet. Depending on the severity of the problem, models are available in heights of 18, 24, 36, and 42 inches. Common areas of use include naval yards, ports and marinas, and coves protected from breaking waves.
Make the Aquatic Plant and Debris Boom an essential part of your marine debris mitigation strategy. To determine the best barrier product to keep your beaches clean of sargassum seaweed buildup, contact our experts! Call 1-772-646-0597.