Sargassum has an ecological and health impact on people, so protocols and guidelines must be designed for its handling, from its removal from the sea and the beach to its final disposal in landfills or improvised dumps.
This was stated by the biologist and researcher of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Rosa Rodríguez-Martínez, who emphasized that one of the most worrying things about sargassum are the gases it produces, since when it decomposes in high quantities it produces methane, which contributes to climate change; also ammonium and hydrogen sulfide that in people cause burns and irritation to the skin and eyes but also causes difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness, among others.
“I am especially concerned about the people who work cleaning sargassum. Because let’s think that they are bent over shoveling the wheelbarrow every day and for hours. Without any protection, not even boots,” he said.
In addition, he said that when sargassum decomposes it releases arsenic, which according to research can cause lung and skin cancer, and can even cause other types of cancer.
He added that arsenic, which is liposoluble, that is to say it dissolves and affects the quality of the water of the beaches, as well as if when disposing of the sargassum in dumps without geomebranas the leachates end up in the soil and these in turn contaminating the aquifers.
The director of the Academic Unit of Reef Systems of the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology emphasized that measurements and investigations are also needed to know how the people who live on the coasts where the sargassum arrives are being affected.
“We have to be very careful how the sargassum is used and how it is disposed of because it could enter the marine food chains or trophic chains (end up in humans) when it is in the sea or if it is used as cattle feed,” he explained during his lecture at the Wider Caribbean-European Union Regional Conference on Sargassum.
He added that one ton of sargassum produces 316 liters of leachate that can have up to 5.7 grams of arsenic, which is a high amount.
Rodriguez urged countries that receive sargassum to have protocols and guidelines for all sargassum handling. He said that Mexico is working on an integral management strategy that involves the government, the private sector and the academy, because this problem cannot be faced dispersed.
He also advocated that the countries of the Greater Caribbean should unite their efforts for research and monitoring of sargassum, because many of the initiatives are repetitive while there are areas that remain unstudied and unaddressed.