St. Thomas shorelines are being impacted once again by the invasive seaweed known as sargassum, and the news for its demise isn’t encouraging for the immediate future.
Paul Jobsis, director of the University of the Virgin Islands Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, said Monday that with the seas not cooling off in the next couple months, it’s likely to get worse in that time.
However, he qualified that prediction. "I could be completely wrong, of course," he said. "This latest invasion has blown in with this warm wind to the south," he said. "If it changes more to the east, it might be better news."
This particular invasion is not from the Sargasso Sea, Jobsis said. "It’s actually from the South Atlantic off the coast of Africa. Some oceanographic models show the currents bringing it up to the Caribbean occurring cyclically. We had a big invasion in 2011 and almost every other year since then," he said.
Jobsis said the seaweed does play an important role in the ecosystem. "It provides a home for juvenile lobsters, other small invertebrates and many juvenile fish. Larger fish like wahoo and dorado (mahi-mahi) will also come to the rafts of sargassum.”
Be that as it may, that is no consolation the Frenchtown fishermen, who have been battling the seaweed for several days; it has all but rendered their fishing boats useless, land locking them in a massive embrace of the smelly, brown algae.
The fishermen finally got help from the Department of Public Works on Monday, as a lone backhoe operator arrived to haul the seaweed away. They said they hadn’t been able to get any help during Carnival.
One of the fishermen, who didn’t want his name used, said Public Works helped them Monday and would return at 7 a.m. Tuesday with a crew to help with the enormous amount of sargassum. "The backhoe operator told me he will be here tomorrow at 7 a.m. with a crew,” he said. "We will clean up more tonight and start at 4 a. m. tomorrow to be ready for them.”
Jane Wherren, Crown Bay Marina operations director, has taken a more proactive approach to the problem. She said Monday the marina has also had a large invasion of the sargassum. They have been working on cleaning it up for the last two days.
"We use Capt. Benjy Swartz and his pump-boat, which docks here at the marina,” she said. "He drives the sargassum back out to sea.”
Wherren said she is very concerned for the environment. "We are a Blue Flag marina,” she said, "the only one in the V.I., which means we are environmentally correct. There is so much life under the seaweed. By removing it and putting it in a Dumpster, you are killing that life.”
She said she is considering a preventative measure for blocking the seaweed before it enters the marina with equipment that could cause the currents to block the entrance.
The Island Beachcomber Hotel on Lindbergh Bay said it has seen only a small amount of the seaweed.
On the East End, there was no answer at American Yacht Harbor, but Molly Malone’s Pub in the area reported "lots and lots” of the seaweed.