JHTA wants plan to deal with looming sargassum threat
In this file photo, hotelier Richard Wallace removes garbage trapped in Sargassum seaweed covering the Negril beach in 2022.

WITH a 5,000-mile seaweed belt in the Atlantic Ocean heading to the Caribbean, South Florida, and the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, there are calls for the creation of a disposal site as the brown algae is cleared from Jamaica's beaches.

The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt — as the biomass stretching from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico is called — contains scattered patches of seaweed on the open sea.

It is not a new occurrence, but satellite images captured in February showed an earlier start than usual for such a large accumulation in the open ocean, which could begin to impact Jamaica in weeks.

With that projection in mind, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) President Robin Russell is calling on local authorities to begin making preparations immediately.

"One of the things we were concerned about is if there should be a dump site… that JHTA members, and generally anybody on a beach, could use," Russell told the Jamaica Observer.

RUSSELL...we've been alerting our members within the sector, just advising them about the recommendations from NEPA

He said he has reached out to the authorities on the issue but nothing has come out of those discussions as yet.

'We'd love one in MoBay, one in Ocho Rios, and in-between that — somewhere you can dispose of it instead of carrying it up to the dump, somewhere you can put up all the sargassum," added Russell.

The proliferation of the seaweed on beaches and across the island's shoreline has been a recurring feature in recent years, with the masses tending to be bigger each year.

According to Russell, the JHTA has been getting the word out to its members to be prepared.

"We've been alerting our members within the sector, just advising them about the recommendations from NEPA [National Environment and Planning Agency] and how to deal with it," said Russell.

For its part, NEPA has already started advising Jamaicans about the imminent arrival of the seaweed, mainly through social media posts.

Russell noted that so far he has not received any reports about the arrival of the seaweed.

The seaweed has a pungent smell and just last year, in October following a similar weather system, the algae could be found in many places along the coastline that required varying levels of cleaning.

In Negril hoteliers had bemoaned the fact that the odour and volume of the weed had impacted the tourism product, as guests were hesitant to go near the space until it was cleared away.

Russell is cognisant of the impact the sargassum could have on the tourism sector but explained that it mainly affects the south coast of the island.

He said the sector is looking at a variety of ways of dealing with the issue without causing undue damage to the beaches.

"NEPA had come up with a series of recommendations that covers the steps, such as how to harvest it, where to harvest it. It's really just through NEPA because the thing we don't want to do is erode the beach by clearing the sargassum, so it's a lot of NEPA suggestions more than JHTA suggestions," added Russell.

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