The Panamanian Caribbean coasts, mainly in the province of Colon, in recent days have reported an upwelling of sargassum, brown algae of the genus Sargassum, which constitutes dense populations in the form of floating rafts on the ocean surface.
Marino Abrego, head of the Department of Coastal and Marine Resources Management of the Directorate of Coasts and Seas of the Ministry of Environment (MiAMBIENTE), informed that these proliferations of sargassum are due to situations related to climate change and also due to the number of nutrients that exist in the waters or seas where they are produced and then the marine currents move them towards the coasts.
The presence of sargassum in Panama is unusual since previously this algae reached the Panamanian coasts but in smaller quantities than what has been witnessed in recent days on the beaches of Colon.
According to the marine biologist, these rafts of sargassum have been observed for some time in the northern area of the Caribbean Plateau and the Atlantic Ocean, and their presence has even given name to the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic. However, since 2011 there has been a perceived proliferation of sargassum populations in the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR), including locations where they were absent or extremely rare.
"Although these algae are considered a nuisance when they invade shorelines, it is important to note that sargassum mats are home to many endemic species and provide nurseries and shelter for species ranging from invertebrates, fish, and important commercial species, including protected sea turtles," said Abrego.
Sargassum invasions observed along the coasts do not affect the same locations throughout the year, as they are transported by ocean currents, the influx of this algae progressively touches different locations throughout the region.
Abrego said that coastal cleanup, for example, is a major coordination challenge, as the collection process must be monitored and follow rules designed to avoid contributing to further eroding the coast and disturbing marine or coastal organisms, such as turtle nesting.
Therefore, the use of equipment with wide, low-pressure tires rather than heavy truck vehicles is recommended. Furthermore, where the in-water collection is allowed, one option would be in calm waters along the coastline or semi-enclosed bays, ports, and marinas; some regulations should be set for the latter type of collection, avoid disturbing marine organisms and their environment, added the head of the Coastal and Marine Resources Management Department.
To improve coordination and help countries affected by the sargassum invasion in the Wider Caribbean Region, the Regional Activity Center of the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife of the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (SPAW-RAC) and the Caribbean Environment Program, where Panama is part of, have been working together since 2015, to improve regional cooperation.
Finally, Abrego, said that given the scenario with high concentrations of this invasive algae in the Panamanian Caribbean, it is necessary to implement actions aimed at establishing a research center to conduct studies on sargassum in this Panamanian area, which aims to have its own information or from other sources for monitoring; Establish national strategies for the collection of this species in the sea; generate legal frameworks, the management or disposal plans for this type of aquatic plant collected; and establish public-private initiatives for the generation of productive projects for the use of sargassum.