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Sargassum taking a toll on marine life

The Department of Environment (DOE) said its keeping a close watch on the Sargassum that continues to roll in.

DOE’s Research and Assessment deputy Director Tim Austin said while Sargassum is an unattractive sight, once it is outside the reef it serves a great purpose.

“These rafts are very important as fishermen will tell you, fish congregate around them, they provide nutrients, they provide habitat for smaller turtles, they are fish that are dedicated to spending their life in sargassum, they need it as an ecosystem, but once it makes its way inside the reefs it’s a different problem altogether,” said Mr. Austin.

Sargassum is a type of seaweed that floats in the ocean. The berry-like structures are gas-filled bladders known as pneumatocysts, which provide buoyancy to the plant. Mr. Austin said when Sargassum clusters on the shoreline it is harmful to sea life.

“So regionally Sargassum and the bloom of Sargassum continues to be a problem, so we see a lot of fish kills or invertebrate kills, we see a lot of sea grass that is smothered, you can see coral but basically, we see this deterioration water quality as the material breaks down,” said Mr. Austin. Not only does the smelly seaweed kill animals, according to Mr. Austin, it also prevents turtles from getting into the water. 

“It can deprive the nest of oxygen but also prevent the hatchling from coming up and potentially present barriers for them as they try to migrate down the beach into the water,” said Mr. Austin. He adds the toxic Sargassum can have a detrimental impact on human health. Hydrogen sulfide can be quite toxic at higher levels. I don’t think it’s lethal but it can but detrimental at certain parts of a thousand,” said Mr. Austin.

Hydrogen sulfide is the chemical compound with the formula H2S. It is very poisonous, corrosive, and flammable. Hydrogen sulfide is often produced from the microbial breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen gas, such as in swamps and sewers; this process is commonly known as anaerobic digestion which is done by sulfate-reducing microorganisms. H2S also occurs in some sources of water. Mr. Austin said those clearing Sargassum should exercise caution.

About the author

Seaford Russell jr.

Seaford Russell jr.

Seaford Russell Jr. joined Cayman 27 in the spring of 2018. He started off as a part-time photographer but thanks to his hard-work, dedication and eye for photography, he was offered a full-time position as a reporter trainee. Seaford is committed to bringing the people of Cayman informative and balanced news about what’s happening in the community.

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