Sargassum Seaweed
in Barbados

There has been a lot of concern about the sargassum seaweed in Barbados, and hopefully this page will shed some light on the situation and assuage any apprehensions you might have about visiting the island.

Spring is my favorite time of year.  For me, it is nature’s rebirth.  For many Caribbean islands and Barbados beaches, it carries the probability of a seaweed attack.  

Sargassum is a type of seaweed that lives in the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic region and plagues the Caribbean islands and the Gulf of Mexico during the spring months.  Reports suggest that the seaweed has been washing ashore on the Caribbean beaches since 2011.  Personally, I had not seen it in Barbados before 2014.

Seaweed making its way to the East Coast of Barbados in early Spring 2015

In the spring of 2015, the seaweeed sargassum assaulted the Caribbean archipelago.  By July, it had tripled, in some cases, quadrupled its accumulation along the Caribbean’s beaches.  Some scientists have attributed this to climatic changes like global warming and low winds.  

The Sargasso Sea Commission explains how important the seaweed is to the ecosystem and how many living organisms heavily depend on this seaweed for survival, but try explaining that to vacationers who have traveled thousands of miles for pristine beaches and crystal clear water.  

Yes, I agree with you.  It is not fair.

How the Sargassum Seaweed in Barbados has Affected Barbados Beaches

The island was feverishly getting ready for its carnival climax with numerous staged music competitions and events.  On the quiet East Coast, however, the ocean was churning up large deposits of seaweed, and beach conservationists were feverishly working to get rid of it.  

This is the Atlantic side of the island where surfers enjoy the wave breaks and a myriad of other related water sports.  This is also where most of the seaweed had accumulated.  

I decided to visit some of the local hotels to get an idea of how invasive the seaweed was.  On the Southeast Coast and some South Coast beaches, the seaweed was present, drying out to a deep brown mat under the sun’s rays. 

Sargassum seaweed at Sandy Beach on the Barbados South Coast in 2015

As I too drifted southeast, I realized that the closer I got to Bridgetown, the capital, the less seaweed I was seeing.  

I know many of you have read/heard about the sargassum seaweed in Barbados, and like any dramatic news story, it has had a negative impact on travelers looking to vacation in Barbados.  

This is a legitimate concern, and I am not denying the presence of the seaweed.  I am just saying that the island is not buried in it as some will have you believe.  The hotels and resorts are all open and it is business as usual.  There is no state of emergency or anything close to it.

In fact, one traveler contacted me and expressed her devastation on hearing about the sargassum seaweed in Barbados.  She had already booked her holiday vacation on the West Coast of the island and was reluctant to travel.

One of her questions:  "Some of the East and Southeast hotels are shuttling their guests to the seaweed-free beaches.  Are those beaches crowded?"

Answer:  No, not at all.  I’ve spent many hours on the beaches in Barbados, traipsing up and down.  I’ve been following up closely with my contacts who own beach bars and hotels, and they have reported no crowding situations.  On one hand, this may seem like an inconvenience to some, but on the other hand, visitors get the chance to see the other side of the island, which they probably would not have had a chance to see under normal circumstances.

New Sargassum Seaweed at the height of the summer season 2015
Photo Credit: Anton Best

What Seaweed?

As I continued traveling farther South towards Bridgetown, it was like being on another planet.  I’d say island, but I don’t know of a single island that hasn’t been affected by the seaweed.  

The water was turquoise blue and beautiful.  On the west coast of the island, all of the beaches were free of seaweed.  This was my Barbados, my paradise.  I wanted to hug her.  

When I returned to the United States, I realized the seaweed in Barbados was minimal compared to many Caribbean islands like Antigua, St. Thomas, and St. Martin.  Mexico and some US states like Florida and Texas were also battling this relentless aquatic giant.

This photo of Browne's Beach was taking in early July 2015. No sign of seaweed.

Here are the Seaweed free Beaches in Barbados

  1. Browne's Beach (Bridgetown)
  2. Fitts Village Beach (West Coast)
  3. Brandons Beach (Greater Bridgetown area)
  4. Heron Bay (West Coast)
  5. Gibbes Bay (West Coast)
  6. Sandy Lane Beach (West Coast)
  7. Paynes Bay Beach (West Coast)
  8. Holetown Beach (West Coast)
  9. Read's Bay (West Coast)

Crystal clear water at Holetown Beach, July 2015 .  This was at the height of the seaweed invasion.  No evidence of seaweed in the water or on the beach below.

Holetown Beach Barbados with view of Folkestone Marine Park (north view)

Pros

Apparently, the Sargassum acts as an all-you-can-eat nutrient-enriched buffet for many forms of marine life like shrimp, crabs, small insects, and small fish

It can be a source of food for shore birds as they feed off of the seaweed hitch-hikers

Fishermen in Barbados have been able to take it easy on their fishing nets as many species of big game-fish follow the seaweed and feed off its drifters.  I’m sure that has changed.

Scientists and environmentalists believe the seaweed can help control erosion by binding to the shorelines

This looks like a win-win for all, but let’s take a look at the cons.

Cons

It affects tourism, plain and simple.  Try pitching the benefits of the seaweed on the eco system to travelers who cannot enjoy their Caribbean vacation because the beaches are covered with brown mats of seaweed.

It traps baby turtles and other life forms 

Efforts have been futile in determining the best way to recycle 

I hope I have fully clarified and alleviated any concerns about the sargassum seaweed in Barbados.  Most travelers search for and try to take advantage of the best beaches when traveling, and that goes without saying.  In this case, the good news is that most of the best Barbados beaches were not affected by seaweed.   The verdict? A great vacation is still in order.  

Boom!

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