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Too much seaweed

Ioane Burese
Saturday, January 19, 2013

THERE is growing concern about the recurrence of abundant seaweed blooms on Viti Levu which are defacing beaches and impacting the environment, probably as a result of climate change.

According to a statement, the knowledge-sharing forum Pacific Solution Exchange (PSE) is making this its number one climate change discussion across all Pacific islands this month.

Prompting the Pacific-wide discussion is Dr Antoine De Ramon N'Yeurt, research fellow with the European Union Global Climate Change Alliance Project at the Pacific Centre for Environmental and Sustainable Development (PACE-SD) at the University of the South Pacific.

"We suspect the sudden bloom of this normally discrete seaweed over the last few years is caused by recent changes in the environment, like the rise in seawater temperatures due to climate change, poor water circulation in the lagoons, and an increase in man-made nutrients and pollution," Dr N'Yeurt said.

"The blooms almost exclusively consist of a fast-growing, local species of red seaweed (gracilaria edulis) which can become very abundant, and when dislodged by rough weather it washes up in great quantities onto beaches and the shoreline.

"This is causing environmental issues because they smother traditional fishing grounds and reduce the productivity of the reef flats by taking nutrients and oxygen out of the water, and also displacing the normal seaweed assemblages that grow there."

Local communities affected by the influx of seaweed and the foul rotten-egg odour it produces have approached the Pacific Centre for Environmental and Sustainable Development to help solve the problem.

"The seaweed influx is not environmentally-friendly, it is also unsightly and causes a severe odour problem, as it rots and releases noxious gases such as hydrogen sulfide," Dr N'Yeurt said.

Dr N'Yeurt, who has devoted the last 20 years to studying tropical Pacific marine botany, ecology and taxonomy, climate change and the marine environment, hopes responses to this PSE discussion will help all of those studying or working in climate change to better understand and address this issue.

He is interested in hearing from people in the Pacific and internationally, about whether the problem is occurring elsewhere; possible causes and solutions to the problem; and how we can sustainably use the seaweed as compost or fertilizer for example, or as biomass for renewable energy in ocean afforestation projects.

The discussion about seaweed and climate change continues until 30 January, with people invited to join the PSE community if they want to become part of the conversation. Joining is free: www.solutionexchange-un.net/pacific