The excessive arrival of algae registered in recent months on Mexican Caribbean beaches has gone from the crisis that pointed to an ecological disaster to the opportunity represented by its potential use.
The Secretary of the Environment (SEMA) of the state of Quintana Roo confirmed that from June 19 to August 21, a total of 134,592 cubic meters of sargassum had been collected from the beaches of the Caribbean.
Given these volumes - and following the ruling that crises represent opportunities - some researchers have made public several proposals to put sargassum to good use, from products for the food and pharmaceutical industries to biofertilizers and fertilizer. The options have been a balm before the invasion and the emergency that the macroalgae has caused.
What is sargassum?
Sargassum is a floating algae that "travels" adrift driven byocean currents.
It functions as a living "island" that serves asfood and home for various marine species.
Traditionally, this alga begins its life in the Gulf of Mexico and is pushed by currents towards the North Atlantic, where it floats in themSargasso ar, close to Bermuda.
Since 2011, however, scientists have detected the creation of a new sea of sargassum between the coasts of Africa and Brazil, which is where the sargassum is now coming from.Caribbean.
The sargassum islands have been recorded for centuries, but in 2015 there was an arrivalatypical from the seaweed to the shores.
Since then it has continued to reach the coasts but since March of this year it hasincreased Your presence.
The UNAM Marine Botanical Laboratory estimates that this year the amount of sargassum that arrived in 2015 has already doubled and forecasts show that its arrival couldextend until October.
The researcher Candelaria Isabel Pérez Martín from the Yucatán Scientific Research Center (CICY), pointed out that sargassum has "great potential to be used as a substrate in hydroponic crops, and as fertilizer for plants."
These possibilities were explored by the scientist in her thesis work and professional residency, where she evaluated regional organic materials in order to potentiate their use in plant cultivation.
“The tsitsilché (flower of the region), coconut fiber, henequen bagasse, sargassum were studied and the yield of sargassum is similar and even superior to coconut fiber, widely used to grow plants, so its applications as a substrate could be oriented to hydroponic crops, pots, or as compost combined with other materials ”, he said.
At the beginning of August, a group of young people from the Mexican state of Yucatán, where the arrival of sargassum is constant, pointed out that it can be used to make food for livestock and fertilizer for agriculture, as well as creams, sunscreen, hair treatments and others. cosmetics.
The marine biologist Guadalupe Catzín, together with her colleagues Mauricio Gómez and Regina Rodríguez and the industrial engineer Bernardino Catzín, created the company Salgax, which uses applied marine biotechnology to create 100% natural products.
Although only a few months ago that they formed the company, they have been working and developing tests with sargassum for four years, "to create products and at the same time try to solve the ecological problem to help the planet"
Other research has indicated that sargassum contains a good amount of alginic acid, a colloid that gives texture to products such as chantilly cream or whipped cream.
Why has it increased?
The expertsthey are not clear why the increase in sargassum is due, but they have several hypotheses. One of them has to do with thetemperature increase of the waters, caused by climate change.
Another possibility is theincreased nutrients in the water, which favors the growth of the algae. More nutrients in the water sounds good, but it's not.
In fact, the watercrystalline of the Caribbean is due to the fact that it has few nutrients, but human activity is sending polluting fertilizers to these waters that unbalance the ecosystem.
This increase in nutrients causes the sargassum to expand more quickly.
According to laboratory calculations, the sargassum they have been monitoring has the ability to double its weight inonly 18 days.
What the authorities say
The Secretary of Ecology and Environment (SEMA) of Quintana Roo, Alfredo Arellano Guillermo, said that the authorities are "promoting its use" and that there are already companies that are interested in the product.
In these cases it is better "sargassum without sand that comes from the sea because it has a longer life than that which decomposes on the beach and takes longer to be removed," said the official.
The federal secretary for the Environment and Natural Resources, Rafael Pacchiano, recently underlined the disadvantage of not knowing in advance the amount of sargassum that will reach the beaches, because knowing it "would be easier for companies to agree to make a significant investment."
This macroalgae reaches the Caribbean from two main sources: the Sargasso Sea in the Bermuda Triangle, and a new area north of the Earth's equator, where they accumulate off the coast of Brazil to enter the Caribbean.
Sargassum on beaches is an indicator of pollution and increased damage caused by human activity in Caribbean seas and coasts, where there are irregular settlements and inadequate treatment of black and gray water.
With information from: