Coastal-area residents warned for adverse sargassum health effects | THE DAILY HERALD

GUANA BAY/POINTE BLANCHE–St. Maarten Nature Foundation is warning that residents of coastal communities are starting to experience adverse health effects due to gasses released by decomposing sargassum seaweed. In particular residents of Guana Bay and Pointe Blanche have requested the Nature Foundation to look into the matter.

Nature Foundation had been coordinating its monitoring efforts with local stakeholders and partners in the region on how best to approach the issue, the organisation said Thursday.

“We know a lot has been said of using the sargassum as fertilizer but at this point there is no feasible option without government support to tackle the issue. We need to find a way to coordinate the removal of the seaweed with heavy loaders which causes serious risks to nesting sea turtles and hatchlings while the grass itself can be a hazard to the animals,” said Nature Foundation manager Tadzio Bervoets.

“We are advising as much as we can residents in especially Guana Bay and Pointe Blanche to keep windows and doors closed as much as possible. But unfortunately based on weather predictions and aerial surveys there is a significant amount of the seaweed still headed in our general vicinity,” he said.

When the sargassum lands and starts to decompose, hydrogen sulphide gas is released. The gas is colourless, toxic and highly flammable and spreads an unpleasant odour, much like the smell of rotten eggs.

“Inhaling the gas in small doses can trigger irritation of the eyes and the respiratory system, especially among people who are sensitive to it. The groups at risk are people with respiratory problems, asthma patients, elderly people, babies and pregnant women. Certain animals – especially dogs – are also sensitive to the inhalation of hydrogen sulphide,” continued Bervoets.

Sargassum first plagued St. Maarten and the Caribbean at large in 2011 and 2012, with the Foundation having to warn swimmers to avoid swimming in Guana Bay in August and September due to the large amount of sargassum weed and many beachfront residences and hotels having to continuously clean washed up seaweed.

The Nature Foundation said it will continue to monitor the situation and will issue updates as information becomes available.

Source: The Daily Herald