An international crisis and the greatest single threat facing Caribbean economies.
That’s how the recently installed Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Sir Hilary Beckles described the influx of Sargassum with which the region is grappling, estimating that the Caribbean would need US$120 million and 100,000 people to clear the troublesome weed.
Addressing a Sargassum symposium hosted by the UWI Cave Hill Campus this morning, Sir Hilary described the situation as disturbing, saying the region’s vital tourism sector was at risk.
“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,” he told participants.
“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 regional historian said there was beginning to be a perception of a “dirty beach syndrome” in the Caribbean, which he said ought not to be allowed to become a part of the regional reality.
“We have a tourism brand and we have a product and that product is built around the beauty of our marine ecologies and our beaches . . . this phenomenon is a threat to this brand and therefore we must do all we can to protect this brand. It is in our economic and social interest that we do so,” said Sir Hilary.
The Caribbean historian pointed to Mexico which has said it will spend $9.1 million and hire 4,600 temporary workers to help clean up the pesky seaweed from 180 kilometres of the country’s Caribbean coast.
He said if the Mexico formula were adopted, the region would need in excess of US$100 million to fund a clean up campaign.
“I am led to believe that every day at least 10,000 tons of this weed is deposited on our beaches across the Caribbean . . . if you take all of that information and we take the Mexican strategy and then apply that to the Caribbean world . . . what you are looking at is maybe US$120 million.
“[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,” he added.
The former UWI Cave Hill principal also called for the establishment of a special ‘Sargassum support fund’ as well as an emergency agency to combat the explosion of the seaweed.
“Since this is going to be the new normal we need institutional development to accommodate the sustainability of the necessary research and policy formulation and therefore we need a Sargassum Emergency Agency,” he said.
Meanwhile, principal of the UWI Cave Hill Campus Eudine Barriteau said the university stood ready to do what it could to address the issue, despite limited funding for research and development.
She noted that the region could not afford to spare time, and at the end of the symposium UWI would deploy a multi-media strategy to share key findings.
“We are aiming to provide strategies for our governments and key sectors, and critical information for our Caribbean publics,” she said.
Describing the influx as an environmental, economic and social crisis, Barriteau said in spite of funding inadequacy the university and its regional partners were demonstrating that they took very seriously, the responsibility of creating indigenous solutions.
“I believe we have a moral obligation to do so. The UWI is ready, willing and open to working with international experts in this area. Yet we cannot and do not await their interest in solving what is fundamentally our problem,” Barriteau said.