What Is Sargassum?
Sargassum is a unique type of free-forming brown-colored macroalgae. There are around 300 different species, and unlike seaweed and seagrasses, it does not attach to the seafloor. Instead, it blooms in large floating rafts of algae, which can stretch for miles. As a result, Sargassum offers a rich habitat that acts as a shelter, food, and breeding ground for sea life when located at sea. Fish swim among it, snacking on food along the way. Crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp take up residence, and turtles use the floating rafts as safe harbors for hatchlings to feed. It also makes up an essential piece of the Marine Carbon pump. A series of natural processes act as an oceanic lung, which breaths in carbon from the atmosphere. This capturing of carbon dioxide at a global level allows for the cycling of organic matter made up of plankton, mollusks, and other species via photosynthesis to give life to our oceans. As a result, many coastal communities in the areas affected are investing in sargassum removal.
Where Is This Algae Found and Why Does It Build Up Quickly?
In early 2014, massive amounts of Sargassum began to wash up on the coasts of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Yucatan peninsula. Due to factors that start with the excess toxic waste runoffs from the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, these wastewaters meet the upswell currents of the Atlantic Ocean. The nutrient-rich chemicals that include fertilizers, pesticides, and many heavy metals get pushed north into the four main currents that feed what is known as the “Sargasso Sea,” north of the island of Bermuda. Satellite imagery reveals a floating gyre of algae approximately the size of Australia that is only getting bigger due to a consistent 0.14°F temperature increase in the ocean waters every decade since 2000. Additionally, climate change attributes to more powerful hurricanes, which pull nutrients from the sea floor to potentially further fertilize Sargassum.
2022 has become a challenging year for the Caribbean because the sargassum season started earlier and stronger than ever before. Usually, large clumps of Sargassum begin to show up around May and continue through September. This year, it began smothering Caribbean shores in early March when millions of tons of sargasso of the fluitans and natans variety finally reached Guatemala, Belize, the Mexican Caribbean coast (Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancun). These gigantic blooms had already engulfed most of Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba.
- The release of hydrogen sulfide that emanates a pungent and unfavorable odor is described as “rotting eggs’, which lingers for days.
- Flies, mosquitoes, and other insects thrive because they are an essential part of the decomposition process but cannot be fumigated to protect the sensitive environment and prevent further pollution.
- Higher risk of dengue transmission due to the increase in mosquitoes that source from stagnant water.
- Health risks from long-term exposure can trigger allergic reactions, skin rashes, and respiratory complications.
- Fish, dolphins, and sea turtles are becoming ensnared in the large swathes of the algae and later decomposing ashore only adding to already serious health risks.
- Currently, for every 1,000 kilos of sargassum that is removed from the beach, 400 kilos is sand. The removal of sand by industrial equipment, particularly excavator tracks and manual clean-up crews inadvertently erodes beaches and destroys the natural vegetation.
- The pristine, clear turquoise color of the water tarnishes into a muddy brown slush due to the bacteria released and the chemical composition of the sargassum. It may take months before the water can be restored if sargassum is not removed quickly.
- Due to the thick membrane of floating roots, oxygen is absorbed by the plants and sunlight is unable to reach the seabed preventing photosynthesis from occurring while also suffocating animals and causing the tragic extinction of coral species throughout the Mexican Caribbean and the Mesoamerican Reef System.
Most recently, studies conducted by Dr. Albert Pereira Corona have revealed Sargassum contains high contents of heavy metals, such as lead, copper, manganese, zinc, arsenic, nickel, chromium, boron, phosphorous, and cadmium, among other toxic chemicals. These metals and chemicals limit the repurposing of this material for industry use and place severe concerns for long-term exposure. Therefore, the report also stresses the urgency of removing the Sargassum to prevent prolonged exposure to humans.
The Issues Sargassum Cause
Cleaning Up Invasive Sargassum With Dredge Pumps
Let’s take a comprehensive look at how sargassum removal solutions might provide the answers necessary to restore our beach lines.
Currently, removing sargassum is a two-fold process, which is slow and costly. Local governments are investing in the removal of this biomass from the seas. Across beaches, locals are manually raking sargassum, a laborious and slow method that renders very little benefit during the summer months and can even cause erosion to the beach. The task can also be overwhelming as sargassum continues to arrive sometimes in inconsistent amounts but on a daily basis.
This is where using EDDY Pump self-priming slurry pumps can be an essential part of the removal process. With EDDY Pump technology, sargassum can be removed quickly, efficiently, and at a low cost. First, the sargassum is barricaded a ways out from the shore to allow it to collect into a large mass. Next, the sargassum is pumped using either an on-shore or off-shore based self-priming slurry pump system. The robust rotor creates an eddy current similar to that of a tornado that suctions thick networks of sargassum directly from the water very quickly, efficiently, and at a low cost.
For example, a 125HP pump with a 6-inch intake and a 4-inch discharge can suction approximately 800 gallons of water, made up of 40 to 70 percent solid mater per minute! Taking into account the fragile ecosystem and paying close attention to the protection of both the public and the wildlife, our EDDY Pump can push the material up to 300 meters / 1,000 feet without the need for a booster pump. Our self-prime pumps are fully mobile and can be trailer, barge, or skid mounted for greater flexibility depending on your needs.
The suction power of the self-prime pump can be controlled through its intake hose and safely redirected from the ocean straight into containers, trucks, or placed in specific areas facilitating its immediate removal and disposal. Since the self-priming pump does not need to be primed, it can be used as a sort of giant wet-vac to assist in removing the free-flowing sargassum from the water. The sargassum is then pumped directly into a barge or other holding tank to be transported away from the shore. Using a completely off-shore sargassum pumping solution subjects the surrounding beach to minimal damage. Additionally, cleaning crews will benefit dramatically by reducing exposure and contact to the biomass while also maximizing the time it takes to collect.
While sargassum has proved to be an incredible challenge for those living along affected coastlines, self-priming slurry pumps offer an unmatched alternative to manual labor. Our goal is not only to provide higher clean-up efficiencies but to do so while protecting wildlife and preserving the natural resources of the Caribbean. Learn more about how you can benefit from EDDY Pump’s tornado-driven rotor technology for sargassum removal and beach maintenance here or just contact us today.