Sargassum is a free-floating seaweed that accumulates in the mid-Atlantic Ocean and travels west. Since 2011, sargassum has become a problem for the Caribbean islands, Barbados included. The sargassum influx is now a problematic norm.
Over the past ten years, the Barbados shoreline has eroded considerably from the consistent sargassum tide. The abundance of marine algae presents issues that directly affect tourists, residents, and Barbados’ jewel-like ecosystem.
This article is everything you need to know about Barbados’ seaweed problem in 2023 before your visit.
Barbados Seaweed Problem 2023
Table of Contents
Current (Present) Seaweed Conditions in Barbados
It’s believed that Portuguese sailors named Sargassum after the wooly rock rose (sargaço) that propagated within their homeland’s water wells. The first records of this brown algae are from sightings on Christopher Columbus’ ships.
Sargassum is golden-brown and, in small quantities, it’s easy to appreciate. It has berry-shaped pods filled with oxygen, enabling it to float. It’s a hydrophyte, which means its complete life span is spent on the ocean’s surface.
Typically, sargassum travels along the ocean currents and doesn’t fall to the floor. Yet, if it does, it provides abundant nutrients and oxygen to the marine ecology. Sargassum is a holopelagic macroalga, which refers to its vital role as a habitat and food source for aquatic life.
Therefore, sargassum is both beneficial and detrimental. This seaweed obstructs boat traffic and hinders any movement on the shore. As mentioned above, the relentless arrival has steadily worn away precious beach land. Also, its significant size impacts infrastructure and fishing.
It grows to approximately several meters long, and when it shores, it rots after a few days. The excess of decaying seaweed emits an unhygienic, foul stench that ruins the immaculate Barbados beaches and tourist experience.
Last year, the local administration governed by Barbados retained about 1600 lightweight utility trucks daily to relieve the shoreland from the sargassum plague. This swamp was during the peak season. The commendable effort saw personnel, bin bags, and beach rakes daily managing the coast.
This year, local government, hotel management, and staff must actively manage the seaweed swamp if it hopes to maintain a thriving tourist economy. The Barbados National Conservation Commission is also responsible for preserving the shoreline.
As of March 2023, a massive belt of sargassum seaweed was spotted from NASA satellites in space, increasing and moving toward Florida and the Caribbean. It’s a record high. The last record-breaking belt was in 2018, stretching along the Atlantic Ocean from Africa’s West Coast to Mexico.
It has amassed approximately 13 million tons, and the comparatively small Caribbean islands impede its westward path. Barbados confronts this high seaweed tide face-on with no other landforms protecting it.
According to the University of South Florida (USF) Optical Oceanography Laboratory, headed by Ph.D. graduate Yuyuan Xie, this recent bloom has grown twice every month from November 2022 to January this year. Currently, it reaches over 5000 miles.
The eastern shores of Barbados have already experienced mass seaweed inundation. It’ll inevitably happen again this year. However, forecasting can be problematic as many variables involve the shore’s state- including the tide, wind, swells, currents, and sargassum.
Barbados Seaweed Forecast for 2023
Generally, beaches exposed to an open easterly wind are susceptible to sargassum influx. Another primary variable in understanding the Sargassum belt trajectory is the northeasterly ocean swells. The wind’s strength and the erratic oceanic currents anticipate the sargassum influx.
Four primary currents circulate the Sargasso Sea (named after the abundance of Sargassum spotted there centuries ago). Climate change warms the tide and strengthens the already strong current and winds. The four major Sargasso Sea currents carry the Sargassum.
Additionally, the run-off from nitrogen-rich agricultural fertilizers, deforestation, increased sewage, and chemicals is responsible for sargassum’s exponential proliferation. However, researchers remain uncertain about the exact reason for the excessive growth.
As mentioned above, the strength and presence of winds and currents are the main predictors of sargassum inundation. Yet, satellites compute statistically accurate assessments of inundation. Prof. Oxenford of Barbados confirms the record-high sargassum level on satellite images.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has compiled experimental sargassum inundation reports (SIR) to predict the risk level of sargassum on various coastlines- the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, the Floridian, the Antilles, and the Central and South American shores.
The NOAA uses information the USF produces, called the Alternative Floating Algae Index (AFAI). The AFAI establishes the risk perimeters via an algorithm analysis that assesses the areas most likely hit. Values are compared against a 30-mile coastline radius and multiday baseline.
There are three risk level categories- low (blue), medium (orange), and high (red). The SIR status from the fourth to the tenth of April 2023 indicates the entire Barbados coastline is a high-risk probability. And the satellite imagery of the AFAI shows the high-risk status in deep red.
Another forecasting measure is a bulletin used specifically by Barbados. It’s produced by the Center for Resource Management and Environmental Studies- CERMES. This center (CERMES) belongs to the University of the West Indies of Cave Hill, Barbados.
The Sargassum Regional Outlook Bulletins are quarterly reports anticipating the beach state concerning the sargassum swell. Published in simple language, in a two-page summation, the public is informed about what to expect and the measure taken to combat the seaweed issue.
Most Seaweed-Affected Beaches/Region in Barbados in 2023
Generally, the most seaweed-affected beaches in Barbados are Consett Bay, Congor Bay, Lakes Beach, Long Bay, River Bay, Morgan Lewis Beach, Oistins, Skeete Bay, River Bay, Trent Bay, and Walkers Bay.
In 2015 the Hilton Hotel on southwest point was relentlessly swamped. The south and east currents around the point mainly contributed to the excess seaweed levels. Nevertheless, the management and staff worked tirelessly to maintain the beach.
Another resort that has experienced well-documented relentless sargassum shoring is The Crane Resort. This resort is renowned for being the oldest in the Caribbean. The Crane is situated on the South Coast, and Crane Beach has been the most directly affected by seaweed.
From January to September 2023, the east and south coastlines will inevitably experience moderate to high sargassum levels. Barbados is a small island (166 sq. miles), and the east and south shores face the sargassum belt head-on.
Best Seaweed-Free Beaches/Regions to Visit in Barbados in 2023
In the past, the west coast has remained mostly seaweed free. As a result, Bridgetown, Carlisle Bay, Holetown, and Speightstown, have been a space of refuge from the sargassum tide.
As the sargassum belt is moving from east to west, the western coast will likely experience low to moderate sargassum levels.
Sargassum has been steadily becoming a problem for Caribbean beaches since 2011. This free-floating seaweed moves along currents from the mid-Atlantic west.
From March 2023, a record-high sargassum belt has been observed by satellites. Barbados is a small island that is confronting the massive sargassum bloom. The eastern and south shorelines will inevitably be swamped.
Related Posts on the Caribbean Seaweed Problem