WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?
Updated: May 6, 2020
Mexico's tourism industry is taking a massive hit due to the influx of seaweed on its eastern beaches. Were coming up with a solution!
Sargassum is a genus of brown seaweed which contains both benthic and free-floating species. Since 2011, a huge annual belt of free-floating Sargassum has bloomed in the Atlantic Ocean, often stretching from the west coast of Africa to the Caribbean, this has become known as the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt and is thought to grow rapidly due to increasing fertiliser run-off from North America.
Sargassum can be beneficial to the open ocean ecosystem, creating a haven for marine species - there is even a Sargassum fish which camouflages itself in the floating rafts to ambush its prey!
However, due to currents and climactic conditions, the seaweed has been washing ashore on Mexico's white sandy beaches where it decays and creates a strong smell, as well as being an eyesore. This is creating an estimated $3 billion decline in the annual tourism industry. It can also damage local reef systems and affect the growth of other marine organisms.
“Last year, millions of tonnes of Sargassum hit the Mexican Caribbean coastline, damaging and degrading coral reefs and marine ecosystems, and decimating the local tourist industry"
Professor Mike Allen
We're aiming to collect the seaweed and turn it into fertilisers using a process called 'Hydrothermal Liquefaction', heating the Sargassum under high pressures using water as a solvent. There is also evidence that this process can also be used to turn seaweed and even marine plastic pollution into biofuels.
"Plastic pollution may well represent an opportunity, rather than a threat to the successful production of biofuel by hydrothermal liquefaction"
Professor Chris Chuck
The converted seaweed fertilisers can then be used on local agricultural land, thus removing the problem for the tourism industry and boosting Mexico's agricultural economy.
Stay tuned to see how we get on!
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