Responding to Sargassum

Staff from Nature Seekers assist a leatherback turtle amid beached Sargassum at Matura Beach
A series of key stakeholder consultation meetings were conducted to find and expedite effective ways of dealing with the Sargassum crisis that has affected many coastal communities in T&T. The discussions with the stakeholders also focused on the possible development of a National Sargassum Response Plan and an Emergency Agency/Committee.
The meetings were held in October and November 2015 and were facilitated by the GEF SGP which is implemented by UNDP, in partnership with the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA). It brought together representatives from Government Agencies, Academic Institutions and civil society. The aim of the meetings was to brainstorm possible solutions to the issue of Sargassum in an effective and efficient manner. Ideas coming out of the discussions were to: increase public awareness on Sargassum, have efficient knowledge exchange and collaboration among the various agencies and sectors as well as to increase the research and development of Sargassum products.
Through these discussions it was discovered that the Sargassum events of 2015 resulted from warmer ocean temperatures, higher nutrient levels and ocean current circulation patterns. Sargassum masses are living ecosystems and are in fact important to many marine species. When beached on shore it can also contribute to beach stability and reduce coastal erosion. Stakeholders agreed that these factors should be carefully considered in the development of a response plan. However local coastal and fishing communities can be significantly affected by Sargassum events, as was seen in 2015. It can result in loss of livelihoods and present other economic constraints. Though time consuming and labour intensive, hand removal of Sargassum is the best option for coastal clean-up because the use of heavy machinery and equipment severely affects beach dynamics and results in the removal of large amounts of sand from the beaches.
Participants of the meetings shared lessons learnt, made recommendations and discussed best practices regarding Sargassum events. It was also agreed that an Early Warning System should be developed to help track and monitor future events. IMA was identified as the focal agency to spearhead the Response Committee and Development of the plan. GEF SGP in collaboration with the IMA will continue to facilitate meetings with other various stakeholders to strive for a way forward.

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