Barrier to stop sargassum would not be ready by 2022

The pristine and paradisiacal beaches of the tourist destination of Bávaro-Punta Cana were affected by an unprecedented amount of sargassum during the summer of 2021.

This situation has led the tourism sector, represented by the National Association of Hotels and Tourism of the Dominican Republic (Asonahores), and the Dominican State, with the Ministry of Tourism at the head, to unify to find a way to help them counteract the natural phenomenon of sargassum with a view to next year. To this end, they created a public-private alliance with a joint fund of approximately US$11.9 million, in which both parties contribute an equal amount of economic resources.

The agreement contemplates the joint public-private contribution of US$11,891,884.00, between the Ministry of Tourism and the individual contributions of the hotel sector, coordinated by Asonahores, in equal parts, to be placed initially in an escrow account, and subsequently in a trust. Resources that will be used to find an alternative to sargasso in the area.

Resources that will be invested in actions to help mitigate sargasso in the areas of Punta Cana, Bávaro, Cabeza de Toro, Arena Blanca and Uvero Alto.

The main project to be raised with the aforementioned funds is the acquisition of a barrier and a sargassum containment, collection and disposal system for more than 40 kilometers of beach and coasts in the municipal district of Veron-Punta Cana, for which a bidding process was opened in November 2021.

The Ministry of Tourism (Mitur) and the Association of Hotels of the East (Asoleste), say that it is still in the bidding process to acquire the technologies to deal with this situation.

The director of the Ministry of Tourism for the area of Bávaro, Verón Punta-Cana municipal district, Carlos Rafael Espinal, said that after the agreement signed with Asonahores, in the public-private alliance, they are working on what would be the conformation of a coral reef barrier and to have a work team to identify the sargasso before it reaches the Dominican beaches.

Meanwhile, the president of Asoleste, Ernesto Veloz, said that the idea is, at the end of the bidding process, to hire the person who will start the work to prepare for the arrival of the sargasso.

He explained that there are already several interested bidders, that they are in the process of consulting the terms of reference and the idea is that they can finish this process as quickly as possible, that there will be an award so that they can begin the work.

He pointed out that part of the funds are foreseen in the trust fund that was created, which the hotel owners have been contributing and the State has already contributed its part as well.

He revealed that in addition to the barriers for the solution to this impasse, technologies are being sought to help mitigate or control this situation when it arises, therefore, he understands that it is necessary to see which are the different technologies offered by the bidders and, based on that, the committee will determine which one will be better in terms of quantity, quality and service.

However, it is unlikely that the solution reached in the bidding process will be available for next year. Therefore, other solutions are being advanced.

The Punta Cana Group and AlgeaNova are betting on the collection of sargassum in the sea from artisanal fishermen’s boats, through a technology called ‘Littoral Collection Module’ (LCM) and then transform different organic waste, including sargassum, into biogas and compost.

AlgeaNova proposes to transform algae into renewable energy, the company converts sargassum into organic compost, disposable plates, compost, and seeks to produce biogas in large quantities for the production of electricity.

It is recalled that in 2020, the Government invested US$2.8 million for the construction of a barrier to help mitigate the presence of sargassum on many of the country’s beaches.

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