The umbrella University of the West Indies and some high officials in the region this week scrambled together academics and tourism industry experts to discuss the seaweed invasion of beaches across the region, to what extent it has disrupted activities in the summer peak season and how best to tackle this unwanted scourge of nature.
The Cave Hill, Barbados Campus was the venue for the parley and officials even suggested that more than $100M will be required in grant aid or concession financing for affected nations and hotels to deal with the invasion of the Sargasum seaweed that has washed up on some of the most pristine beaches in the region in recent months.
The problem with the invasion and its threat to the lifeline tourism industry is that it has arrived during the summer holiday season when experts at places such as the Caribbean Development Bank and the CARICOM Secretariat are away from the desks on annual vacations.
The region’s top brass is also distracted by the latest edition of the Caribbean Festival of Creative Arts (Carifesta) which Haiti is hosting this week until the end of the month.
So people like UWI Vice-Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles took it upon themselves to raise the alarm bells about the effects of the invasion and sought to raise public awareness about a problem that appears not to have attracted attention at the very highest echelons of Caribbean life.
“This is the greatest single threat to the Caribbean. This is a threat not only to our tourism product. It is also a threat to our regional economy,” Beckles argued.” But since this is an international crisis I am therefore calling upon the international community to see this as such. Here in is an endemic and systemic threat to the resilience and development of these nations and therefore we must have an international response to this.”
The number of countries affected by the invasion of the dirty and smelly mass of brown vegetation washing up on beaches continues to grow with nations from Trinidad to Antigua to Puerto Rico and as far north as Mexico complaining about it.
Officials argue that nations would need about $120M in funding to clean up beaches, lease heavy duty equipment and hire large brigades of manual labor to confront and fix the issue.
“We probably would have to deploy over 100,000 people to carry out a similar strategy across the Caribbean space to make our beaches available to those who wish to use them for their multiple purposes,” Beckles suggested.
While most of the countries have not reported large scale cancellations, Tobago has indicated that it is among the worst hit with hundreds of cancellations.
Various officials had called for a special summit of Caribbean leaders to discuss the issue but prime ministers Kamla Persad Bissessar of Trinidad and Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent who are usually the most supportive to these kinds of calls, are both in the middle of general election campaigns and are likely to barely hear much less heed such requests.
As if the battle by tourism officials against the invasion is not providing enough headaches, health officials in Barbados are monitoring the situation as people in some areas are complaining about respiratory infections and other illness associated with the mass on beaches near homes as well.
As well in Barbados, the tourism sector there has warned about the use of heavy duty equipment on beaches to clean up as these have damaged beaches causing additional expense.