Honduras Seaweed Conditions: Latest Updates on Sargassum Bloom Threatening Bay Islands

Honduras seaweed conditions: Latest updates on the massive sargassum bloom threatening the Bay Islands. Learn about the impact on marine life, coral reefs, and tourism, as well as efforts to manage the seaweed and turn it into fertilizer.

Honduras Seaweed Conditions: Latest Updates on Sargassum Bloom Threatening Bay Islands
Tons of sargassum cover the beautiful beaches on the island of Roatán. Photo: Courtesy

Honduras' Caribbean reef is currently under threat due to a massive sargassum bloom that is advancing through the Caribbean Sea. This thick mass of seaweed, estimated to be over 13 million tons, is expected to not only foul the beaches but also kill marine species. The sargassum bloom moves annually from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico, but this year it is projected to affect part of the Bay Islands, mainly Roatan.

The Optical Oceanography Laboratory of the University of South Florida and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released maps that show the southern beaches of the Bay Islands are at 100% risk of being flooded by this belt of seaweed.

According to the University of South Florida's Optical Oceanography Laboratory, "this year's sargassum bloom is likely to be the largest ever recorded, with major impacts over the next several months." Francis Leán, executive director of the Roatán Marine Park, expressed concern about the arrival of the abundant sargassum. "The problem with sargassum is that it limits the entry of light into the water, limits oxygen, creates hypoxic areas and marine species die."

While the mass of sargassum arriving is within "the normal amounts seen in previous years," Carlos Henríquez, a biologist specializing in algae, agrees with Leán that a nourished sargassum belt could have an impact on the coral reef. He explained that "sargassum is an alga that belongs to the acrophytes, it is brown and has certain particularities, especially it has important structures called aerosites, these contain air and help it to stay floating." However, there are no studies that allow comparisons with previous situations, so it is difficult to determine the seriousness of the impact on the coral reefs.

Henríquez warns that "it is highly invasive, for example, if you break one of its stems (they are not stems), it will give you two sargassum. It has vegetative reproduction and, on the other hand, it fulfills its life cycle of sexual reproduction. The more sargassum arrives, there will be more reproduction because it finds nutrients that reach the sea due to pollution." Additionally, when the sargassum arrives, it can decompose on the beaches and cause bad odors, attracting insects and vectors that can cause health problems.

The Roatán Marine Park, together with the Bay Islands Tourism Bureau and the Honduran Institute of Tourism, has launched a campaign to deal with the sargassum. This campaign aims to inform tourists and locals about the sargassum, how it can be managed, and how it can be turned into fertilizer. The campaign also includes training for hotel workers and fishermen on how to manage the seaweed when it reaches the shore.

It is important to note that sargassum is not harmful to humans, and it is safe to swim in waters with sargassum. However, it is advisable to avoid areas where seaweed is abundant, as it can make swimming difficult.

In conclusion, the sargassum bloom is a threat to Honduras' Caribbean reef, and it is important to take measures to manage its impact. The campaign launched by the Roatán Marine Park, the Bay Islands Tourism Bureau, and the Honduran Institute of Tourism is an important step towards managing the sargassum and minimizing its impact on the environment and the local economy.