Sargassum in Jamaica: Nasty Nuisance or Economic Endeavour?

Sargassum seaweed seems to be a new buzzword in the media in recent months and it surely has everyone taking a whiff. This fetid floater has been fouling beaches across the island and has certainly caused a stink in local tourism. With rising temperatures creating the ideal conditions for the algae to bloom, wafts of the seaweed rolling in could render our usually white sandy beaches to brown and mushy. Hotels are now faced with the challenge of keeping their pristine beaches clear of the slimy seaweed. Anyone who wants to start a business in Jamaica, and who loves the environment, should take note because there might actually be a way to turn this smelly seaweed into sweet stacks of cash. 

Start a Business in Jamaica by Understanding the Sargassum Problem

What is the Problem? 

Sargassum in the Caribbean is one of two species and is a free floating open ocean alga. Hoteliers and other affected parties have been stumped by the phenomenon as it completely inundated thousands of kilometres of beaches in Latin America and the Caribbean. Sargassum blooms are not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, they have been around the region of the Sargasso Sea where they play an important role in the ecosystem. This region is found in the North Atlantic and is defined by a region of circulating ocean currents. The blooms are essential for the marine life of the region and serve as a source of food and breeding grounds for quite a few species. In the last few years, pollution of the oceans and rising temperatures fuelled by climate change are creating the conditions necessary for these mega-blooms to occur.

Impact on Local Tourism 

Aside from being an eyesore, the brown mats of mess stink to high heavens when they start  to decompose. It’s no longer a cool Caribbean Sea breeze, sand between your toes moment; it’s more like ankle deep in brown mush, bathed in the aroma of rotten eggs sort of scene.  Definitely no picture perfect moments to be had there! You’ll probably start to wonder if you are on vacation or in a sewer. The phenomenon has become so widespread that one organization tracks and forecasts blooms giving probable locations in specified periods of time. Travellers looking to relax on the beach can know for a high certainty where blooms will end up and avoid them, thus resulting in millions in revenue loss for hoteliers along impacted coasts. This is definitely not something good for someone who wants to start a business in Jamaica in the hotel industry.

Challenges 

Clearing Sargassum from the shoreline is a tedious process and in most cases must be done manually or with little machinery as possible to reduce the amount of sand removed in the process. Sand is a precious commodity along the shoreline and care must be taken that in an effort to solve one problem another is not created. There is also the matter of health related issues that can arise from over exposure to the seaweed once it begins to decompose as it hits the shore. Other countries in the region have reported spending millions to keep the nuisance under control in an effort to cushion the negative impact of the bloom on tourism. 

How to Start a Business in Jamaica Using Sargassum

Opportunities 

Entrepreneurs and hopefuls should seek to capitalize on this raw material that is forecasted to be around for years to come as climate change disrupts global systems. Keen business minds can capitalize on the fact that hotels are willing to pay to remove the seaweed in a sustainable manner. Others can seek to tap into the many potential uses of the Sargassum seaweed. Sargassum can be your ticket to start a business in Jamaica!

Job Creation

 Teams of organized, seasonal beach cleaners with the right equipment can be rallied to ensure that a stretch of beach belonging to a particular hotel can remain clear enough to reduce the nuisance to visitors seeking to soak up sea, sand and sun. Presently, manual labour is the most sustainable way of cleaning beaches as care can be taken to remove the algae without too much disturbance to coastal sand deposits. Opportunistic entrepreneurs can approach hoteliers with teams of cleaners to remove algae and the blooms that approach the shore. Larger chains may be more likely to engage with a small established company than individual workers.   

Bio-fuel

If you want to start a business in Jamaica that has a chance of long-term survival, consider leveraging the bio-fuel properties of Sargassum. The surplus Sargassum caused by climate change could actually be used to generate bio fuels; a renewable source of energy, cleaner and less polluting than fossil fuels. Hoteliers, among others, can cash in on this noxious nuisance by using it to generate biogas from a digester.

Organic matter when allowed to decompose in a controlled, oxygen deprived environment produces methane that can be used as cooking gas. In addition to huge savings on fuel for servicing their various restaurants, hoteliers can now attract and score points with eco- friendly travellers who specifically go for destinations that promote environmental sustainability through their eco friendly practices. 

Organic Fertilizer

Agriculture is a good industry to consider if you want to start a business in Jamaica. Decaying organic matter has been utilized since the inception of agriculture to improve soil fertility and decomposing Sargassum provides an abundant source of this natural fertilizer. The decomposition releases ammonium and sulphate compounds which are vital for plant propagation and growth. These compounds are also responsible for the illnesses that can develop in persons exposed to the noxious gases produced.

 Existing Jamaican agribusiness entrepreneurs can create new sources of income by diversifying their enterprises into organic fertilizer distribution or benefit from huge savings to be gained if it is used instead of chemical fertilizers that are way more expensive. Seaweed based fertilizers would be deemed organic and would maintain soil fertility longer than their chemical counterparts.  Hoteliers would be chomping at the bit to wash their hands of this waste so agri-entrepreneurs would most likely acquire this commodity at minimal cost. 

Economic Linkages

The seaweed saga not only creates opportunities for making money directly, it also provides an avenue for forging and strengthening economic linkages across industries. The tourism industry supports agriculture by sourcing high commodity produce from local farmers. Presently, the local hotel industry is not or diverse enough to supply most of this need. Local farmers and hoteliers can forge a stronger relationship with hoteliers by using the Sargassum collected as organic fertilizer for high commodity crops. Hotels rid beaches of the putrid pest while farmers source high quality organic fertilisers for their crops. 

Livestock Feed Production

Jamaican businesses involved in livestock feed production can also cash in on the abundance of material that can be processed and used as an ingredient in livestock fodder. Research has been carried out on the potential for Sargassum to be used as animal feed. The brown mats would have to be collected before they reach the shore as it decays soon after beaching. The alga provides the opportunity to source a cheap raw material packed with unique nutrients that could contribute to a higher quality feed. The raw material used for local animal fodder is mainly sourced from overseas and prices do fluctuate from time to time because of these uncertainties. 

Final Words on How to Start a Business in Jamaica Using Sargassum 

This article barely scratches the surface on the potential for Sargassum algae as a new super raw material. The uses covered here represent a mere drop in the bucket of information available to entrepreneurs and hopefuls seeking to venture into this niche by turning waste into wealth. Nature-lovers can start a business in Jamaica using Sargassum and be profitable. Feel free to contact me for more details.

Published by Camile Clarke

Camile Clarke is a geography teacher, geologist and freelance writer who lives to learn while learning to live!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: