The Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) will remove and harvest the sargassum seaweed that has collected at some of its seaports. Removal has been delayed because the sole-source contractor’s equipment to remove the sargassum is being repaired. The contractor has assured VIPA that the repairs will be completed in the next two to three weeks, and seaweed removal will begin immediately after.
The seaweed is being removed to help alleviate the foul aroma that is emitted due to the high sulfur content of the weeds. The odor of the seaweed poses no health risk to humans since it is in a well-ventilated area out in the open. Some people may feel an irritation similar to the inhalation of campfire smoke, strong smelling perfumes, Sahara dust or other mild allergies.
Despite its odor, seaweed plays a vital role in the marine ecosystem, not only in U.S. Virgin Islands waters but also in the Atlantic Ocean. Many different species depend on it for nutrients and shelter. It serves as a primary nursery area for a variety of commercially important fish such as mahi-mahi, jacks and amberjacks.
The 2019 summer forecast predicts thicker blankets of the seaweed than previous years. Sargassum seaweed is not unique to the USVI, and the overgrowth has been a major issue for most Caribbean ports and beaches every summer over the last several years. The thick seaweed also affects seashores in Florida and Mexico.
Communities along the affected areas have begun to use the dried out and washed sargassum. It is high in nutrients and can be used to fertilize crops and farmlands. In Asian countries, it is also dried and used for medicinal purposes.