Sargassum in the Caribbean Sea
How Seaweed Barriers Protect Caribbean Beaches
The Sargassum Outbreak in the Caribbean in 2018 could reach record levels, causing ecological stress and economic losses as tourists turn away from seaweed covered beaches. From Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and St Vincent in the Eastern Caribbean, to Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Bahamas in the west—hotels, resorts, and tourism boards are scrambling to find cost-effective solutions.
Beach seaweed removal is a delicate process—heavy machinery causes erosion and destroys endangered sea turtle nests. Many beach managers have turned to hand-raking, which exposes clean-up crews to hydrogen sulfide as the seaweed decays. Many beach workers report headaches, nausea, and eye irritation from exposure to the gas, and they've noticed tarnished metals and problems with electronics as the toxic off-gassing reacts with nearby metals.
As a leading manufacturer of sargassum barriers, GEI Works has some floating debris boom design recommendations to share.
The Orion Seaweed Control Barrier
Floating boom barriers can help mitigate some of these issues by keeping the seaweed away from protected beaches, and diverting it to collection points for processing. The floating boom is built from PVC fabric of a weight and thickness suitable for your site's specific conditions. We use a molded foam-filled polyethylene or closed cell foam flotation, with galvanized bottom weights or chain as ballast which keeps the boom upright in the water. Each length of boom has ASTM slide-style connectors built from heavy duty aluminum with zinc anodes for corrosion resistance. We've constructed boom for resorts, hotels, and beaches in: Antigua, British Virgin Islands, Grand Cayman, Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic, Belize, Mexico, the Florida Keys, Dania Beach, and we've also delivered debris boom in New York.
Floating boom barriers contain seaweed and debris on the surface of the water while allowing wildlife like fish, sea turtles, and dolphins, to swim freely underneath. Nesting sea turtles can still hit the beach, and their hatchlings can make it to the water without piles of Sargassum blocking their way. A debris boom, with the use of other aquatic vegetation removal equipment at the collection site, is a cost-effective and long term solution for hotels, resorts, and beach managers.
Floating Debris Boom Design Recommendations
Our boom is designed to work in one of three ways: collection, diversion, or exclusion. Boom can be deployed to collect seaweed and other marine debris in the ocean where it can be picked up by boats or other aquatic vegetation removal equipment like skimmers.
Diverting the seaweed to a shoreline collection point is the most popular method of removing sargassum. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. Two boom can be used to funnel seaweed to a central collection point, or they can be used in sequence to "pass-off" the seaweed to each other down the line while also keeping lanes open for boat traffic. Beach seaweed removal is then concentrated to one central area instead of along the entire beach.
We've also seen boom extending in a diagonal line to the beach that helped divert the sargassum depending on the specific tidal conditions in that area. The third and option is 100% exclusion—using the boom to close off a beach or designated swim area. Don't worry, marine animals like sea turtles can still swim freely underneath the floating boom barrier.
The bottom line is this: each site solution is different. Due to varying geography, tide, and wave conditions, you may require a single boom or multiple interlocking boom to achieve exclusion of sargassum from your location. Each boom solution comes with a specific anchoring plan, and can be modified with optional high-visibility markings, lighted marker buoys, and tidal compensators if you plan on securing the boom to a dock or other standing structure.
The Importance of Anchoring
Proper anchoring and deployment of the boom is key to maintaining a clean shoreline. GEI Works manufactures a complete line of accessories for debris boom including anchoring kits, marker lights, and floating buoys.
Sargassum in the Caribbean Sea 2018
The sargassum outbreak in the Caribbean is severe. In addition to the countries listed above, massive floating rafts have inundated Martinique, Guadeloupe, Curacao, Dominica, Saint Martin, Anguilla, Montserrat, Aruba, Jamaica, and even as far as the Gulf of Mexico and Texas!
Playa del Carmen, Mexico has had to conduct extensive beach combing. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, uses massive beach raking machines to clear the seaweed every morning—but this is an expensive solution in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States.
A Long Term Solution is Required
NASA and University of South Florida researchers believe that sargassum in the Caribbean will continue to be a problem in the coming years. It's been an annual event since 2011, and every couple of years a new record seems to be set.
An Orion Aquatic Plant and Debris Boom is a long term, economical solution to Sargassum mitigation that can be deployed seasonally each year. Use the boom to collect the seaweed in the water, divert it to a pick-up point, or exclude it from a designated swim beach entirely.
For more information, read about Sargassum in Florida.