Academies are meeting today to reach an agreement and present plans to the Government by June at the latest.
The universities are working tirelessly, -now even more so after the Government’s provision of one million dollars-, on research projects that aim to provide solutions to the problem of sargassum that today is considerably affecting the coasts of the Dominican Republic, and is strongly affecting the tourism, fishing and energy sectors.
Speaking especially to elCaribe, Ulises Jáuregui Haza, coordinator of the PhD in Environmental Sciences and of the Interdisciplinary Sargasso Research Group of the Santo Domingo Institute of Technology (Intec), informed, regarding the current concern about the incidence of sargasso, that this Tuesday the country’s academies have a meeting to agree on the projects that will be presented to the Ministry of Environment before next June, to start executing the funds arranged by President Luis Abinader for research projects before the end of this 2023.
“Since the president made the announcement, practically two days later, there was a meeting with the Minister of Environment. On the other hand, Mescyt launched the call for the project, where there is a part of the funding that is for sargassum and this is already on a path in the interest of presenting the projects and we can start to execute those funds, I aspire that before the end of the year,” he informed elCaribe.
“In my opinion, the biggest challenge we have today is to ensure that there is, on the one hand, the financial availability for research. The president announced the allocation of one million dollars for universities to accelerate research, but we must also accelerate the motivation for companies or entrepreneurs to start using the results of research for applications,” added the academic and researcher.
A biomass that can be taken advantage of
During the interview with this newspaper, Ulises Jáuregui Haza assured that the only way to turn this universal problem into an opportunity for sustainable development is to understand that this algae is a biomass with properties that can be used to great advantage.
“We have to finish converting sargassum into a raw material and create a sargassum industry that brings many benefits to the country, but that is one of the opportunities. It is a challenge and an opportunity to be able to use sargassum. There are foreign companies very interested. It is up to the universities to do the research and develop procedures. For example, we already have ready, thanks to the support that FAO gave us, a procedure to obtain a liquid biofertilizer and we need producers that are dedicated to produce this product because each one has to play its role”, he commented.
The academic, who holds a PhD in Science, warned that it is necessary to look for a way to apply this biomass and find a use for it because today, unfortunately, what is mainly done with it is that it is collected and taken to solid waste disposal areas. “But, these algae, as well as others, have an important benefit. There are several projects that are being worked on. Not only Intec is working on that,” he said.
Speaking specifically about the projects of possible use of sargassum that have been developed at Intec, Jáuregui Haza cited applications in agriculture; liquid biofertilizer; containers for animal feed. The possibility of having biobricks or bioblocks for construction is also being evaluated.
“Sargassum has in its composition biomolecules that can give rise to high value-added products for the pharmaceutical industry and the cosmetics industry. There are other applications with possibilities for energy use, they have worked on the possibility in biogas independently or combined with other organic waste,” he said.
Intec’s research on the sargassum problem, which not only affects the Dominican Republic, but the entire Caribbean region, has focused on four fundamental axes. The investigations of this academy began in 2016.
Intec’s first area of research has to do with the monitoring and production of the massive arrival of sargassum. This is supported by nanosatellites to be able to track the sargassum and predict when, where and in what quantity of algae they approach. The second group is dedicated to the containment and collection of sargassum. “For example, at the beginning and it is still done, the sargassum is collected when it reaches the coast, but the issue is that the impacts on marine systems, and especially on the beach system, that the arrival of sargassum are strong. So, we have to prevent that sargassum from reaching the coast”, said Ulises Jáuregui Haza.
The third, he said, is destined to the application and use of sargassum and the fourth to everything that has to do with the management system, handling, ecosystem studies and legal aspects.
Some of Intec’s research on sargassum has been supported by the National Fund for Innovation and Scientific and Technological Development of Mescyt, as well as the FAO.
UASD makes proposals and makes available a plan for the project
The Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, yesterday made concrete proposals on sargasso, including an observation and research program for early warning forecasting in the Atlantic and contiguous maritime zones: Territorial Sea and exclusive economic zone of the country; sargassum rafts, product of upwelling in the country; anti-cancer bioprospecting of sargassum species present on the coasts of the Dominican Republic; obtaining three multifunctional and nutraceutical products from sargassum ssp, using biological processes that do not sensibly alter its naturalness; nutritional content of sargassum fluitans and natans, among others.
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