Texas A&M Galveston Workshop on Sargassum (Seaweed) Lays Foundation for Continued Studies and Shared Research with the French

Forty-five scientists from France, the United States and western Africa held a two day workshop at Texas A&M Galveston to discuss Sargassum (seaweed) and the problems it has created in the past with no warnings of its landings and inundations on the beaches of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Researchers discussed the origins of Sargassum, how to forecast its travel routes and landings and the need to accurately evaluate its impact on communities. They also learned of the Sargassum Early Advisory System (SEAS) developed by scientists at Texas A&M Galveston using NASA satellites. During the summers of 2014 and 15 Texas and Caribbean beaches, specifically the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, were inundated with Sargassum that hurt area tourism and local economies. Presently, countries along the west coast of Africa, the Ivory Coast in particular, are presently being hard hit by Sargassum landings.

Each scientist and their teams have been researching Sargassum independently. This workshop brought many together for the first time to share and discuss their findings in hopes that this sharing will lead to answers to their many questions.

Texas A&M Galveston leads the way in forecasting with its Sargassum Early Warning System (SEAS). SEAS was created with the help of satellite imagery provided by NASA’s LandSat satellites. It predicts the movement and severity of Caribbean Sargassum landing on Texas beaches, thereby providing an early warning system that helps communities and governments prepare in advance to deal with Sargassum landings.

“Since we have determined a means as to how and when Sargassum will arrive, as it did in 2014 on Galveston. The next questions are, why did it not arrive on Galveston during 2016 and 2017 and will it arrive in 2018? Those are the questions we hope to research in cooperation with French, African, Mexican and other scientists around the world,” said Dr. Tom Linton of Texas A&M Galveston and one of the workshop’s founders.

Other areas discussed at the workshop concerned whether there might be uses for the Sargassum. Researchers at Texas A&M Galveston created a machine that could bale the Sargassum. When the bales were aligned along the shoreline, sand dunes were formed. These dunes protect habitat for plants and animals that are rare and endangered. The dunes protect beaches from erosion and work as a dune barrier that brings in more sand to reinforce eroded beaches. Other scientist are researching whether Sargassum could be used as food, or to supplement nourishment for animal or human consumption.

The conference was informed of one group of former students from Texas A&M Galveston who used the Sargassum in 2015 to produce beer. The former students provided the scientists with just a taste of what they had produced. Unfortunately for the Aggie brewers, the Sargassum did not return the next year and their hopes of a Sargassum brewery floated away.