Nature Foundation Warns That Residents of Guana Bay, Point Blanche Starting to Experience Adverse Health Effects Due to Large Amounts of Decomposing Sargassum Seaweed

The 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 Point Blanch have requested the Nature Foundation to look into the matter: “We have been coordinating our monitoring efforts with local stakeholders and our partners in the region on how best to approach the issue. 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,”
We are advising as much as we can residents in especially Guana Bay and Point Blanch 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,” commented Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets.

Photo: Arial photo of freshly landed and decomposing Sargassum in Guana Bay and Point Blanche

When the Sargassum lands and starts to decompose hydrogen sulfide gas is released. The gas is colorless, toxic and highly flammable gas and spreads an unpleasant odor 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 the Caribbean and St. Maarten 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 beach front residences and hotels having to continuously clean washed up Sargassum.

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