The USVI Hotel & Tourism Association is calling on business owners to provide feedback regarding the socio-economic impact of sargassum on the tourism industry.
In an effort to secure federal funding for sargassum mitigation, the association has released a survey to both member and non-member businesses in the territory aiming to gather as much data as possible, the association said in a press release Friday.
“It is essential we collect ample feedback from businesses within the territory so we have the data to support our request for funding,” said association President Lisa Hamilton. “The financial repercussions of the sargassum invasion over the last 10 years have been substantial, and we need to act now.”
Business owners within the territory can take the survey online. The association is asking for feedback by Wednesday, Aug. 25.
Since 2011, sargassum events have resulted in excessive seaweed-stranding biomass, causing considerable damage to the environment, human health and the local economy of the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Caribbean region. Sargassum events continue to strengthen every two to three years with multiple contributing factors and ever-growing consequences.
The phenomenon is markedly different from the centuries-old pattern of occasional bits of algae that drifted southward from the Sargasso Sea and often went unnoticed by most of the public.
This sargassum seems to originate closer and to be fed by nutrient-laden run-off into rivers emptying into the ocean, heavy with fertilizers and other man-made products. The algae mats begin to appear around April or May and peak later in the summer; by October they start to fade out of sight.
According to figures from the United Nations, there were 27 million tons of sargassum circulating in the Caribbean region from June to August of 2019. The most recent figure available was for just one month, June of 2020, when researchers estimated a regional load of 12.7 million tons. So far, 2018 seems to have been the heaviest year for sargassum in the region. The U.N. reports 20 million tons of it in just one month, June 2018.
The algae is a habitat for a wide range of marine life, prompting calls to leave it undisturbed or at least regulate its handling. It is also a nuisance to residents and visitors, clogging swimming areas, snaring boats, and releasing a “rotten egg” smell as it decomposes, prompting cries for its expeditious removal.
Sargassum-induced odor prompted the closure this summer of the Red Hook office of the Fish and Wildlife division of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. It was at least the second year the office had to close temporarily because of sargassum.
H2S, or hydrogen sulfide, is released by sargassum as it decomposes. It is a colorless gas that is very flammable and highly toxic. At high concentrations, it can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.
Still, recognizing sargassum’s benefits to juvenile sea life such as turtles, crabs and fish, and its protective buffer from wind and wave energy, thus stabilizing shorelines, its removal is regulated by the Coastal Zone Management Commission of DPNR.
For more information about the survey, contact Hamilton at email@example.com or USVIHTA Environmental Committee Co-Chair Valerie Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association is a not-for-profit corporation that serves as the unifying organization for hotels, guest houses, inns, condominiums, campgrounds and other tourism-related business in the St. Thomas-St. John District.