Sargassum is a brown macroalgae that tends to aggregate into large mats and are commonly found throughout the template and tropical oceans. It provides habitats, food, refuge and breeding sites for many commercially important marine fish such as Mahi Mahi, as well as other marine animals such as sea turtles, birds, and crabs. A fun fact is that some of these animals can live their entire lives within these floating environments. Regionally, these algal mats are found in the tropical Atlantic Ocean, Sargasso Sea, and the Caribbean. They can reach the beaches of the northern coast of South America, the Caribbean coasts of Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean.
What are the underlying issues with Sargassum?
During the last ~10 years, especially in 2011 and 2015, unprecedented amounts of Sargassum have been observed in the Caribbean Sea. Generally associated with the “Sargasso sea” located in the North Atlantic (Gower et al. 2006; Hu et al. 2015), recent studies indicate that these algae have become concentrated in the tropical Atlantic Ocean off South America (Gower et al. 2013). Sargassum can tolerate a wide range of water temperature, salinity, and pH conditions making it easy for them to reach coastal areas. They reproduce asexually which might be one of the reasons of its high concentrations. But, exactly why have we seen such vast amount of these mats in the Caribbean is currently a topic of much scientific research.
What are the impacts of large Sargassum mats on our coasts?
Decomposition of Sargassum creates a foul smell. This is a nuisance to people and animals. Regional and local tourism dependent economies have been heavily impacted by these large decomposition events when Sargassum reaches and piles up on beaches. In Jamaica the government has allocated up to USD 5 million to remove Sargassum from their beaches. The Barbados Sea turtle Project has documented increased sea turtle deaths due to being trapped in large concentrations of Sargassum. Barbadian fisherfolk on the other hand have reported increased quantities of fish catch due to the sargassum. Other coastal animals like corals seem to be impacted by shading due to Sargassum (Vega-Rodriguez, M et al. in progress; USF-College of Marine Science).
How can we study these Sargassum events?
Due to their critical ecological role and the economic impacts of Sargassum strandings additional research is needed to fully understand the distribution of this alga in our oceans. Scientists can rely on using data obtained from satellite-images. These data are unique. They cover large areas of the oceans every day. This information can help scientists better understand the sources, distribution and life-span of these important “floating habitats”. An example of the usefulness in satellite data can be found in Dr. Gower, Dr. Young and Dr. King’s work published in the Remote Sensing Letters journal (2013), and from Dr. Hu, an USF-College of Marine Science professor, in the Gulf of Mexico (2015). Dr. Gower’s group was among the first to suggest that the Sargassum source in 2011 was the area of the tropical Atlantic off South America, an area where the water from the Amazon River forms a large plume every year. Whether this river plays a role in the formation of these blooms is not at all clear. They also used satellite-derived data to track the patterns of this seaweed in the Caribbean.
As scientists, we recognize the ecological importance of these “floating habitats”. As people that live on the coast and Islanders we also understand the economical and recreational burden of having large quantities of Sargassum wash up and decompose on our beaches. Future research will help understand the causalities of these Sargassum “invasions” which governments and managers could then use to help mitigate the economic impacts of these events. The University of the West Indies organized a sargassum symposium in August 2015 and the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) is the designated lead on co-ordinating efforts in the Caribbean region to understand and sustainably manage sargassum http://www.sargassum-at-cermes.com/.
Jim Gower , Erika Young & Stephanie King (2013): Satellite images suggest a new Sargassum source region in 2011, Remote Sensing Letters, 4:8, 764-773
Jim Gower, Chuanmin Hu, Gary Bostad & Stephanie King (2006): Ocean color satellites show extensive lines of floating Sargassum in the Gulf of Mexico, IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, 44:12, 3619-3625.
Chuanmin Hu, Lian Feng, Robert G. Hardy, Eric J. Hochberg (2015): Spectral and spatial requirement of remote sensing measurements of pelagic Sargassum macroalgae, Remote Sensing of Environment, 167, 229-246.
We have been highlighting all our video and photo submissions and winners all summer. In case you missed the campaign or would like a quick review of what happened, we have created a short (3 minute video) to show you the highlights. We had 11 submissions from over five different countries including India, Kenya, Barbados, Brazil and the United States!
Thank you to everyone that submitted and participated in this campaign. Congratulations again to our contest winners! If you have an innovative way to “reclcaim”, please share your story with us by uploading a video, photo or blog entry and tagging our twitter handle (@USF_reclaim) with a link to your story. Please surf our website for more ideas and opportunities for collaboration.
USF Reclaim students Matthew Verbyla (PhD, Environmental Engineering) and Paola Gonzalez (Fulbright Fellow, Anthropology, Brazil) recently had the opportunity to visit the Sanitation Research and Training Center (CePTS; Centro de Pesquisa e Treinamento em Saneamento), which is a collaboration between the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) and the Sanitation Company of Minas Gerais (COPASA; Companhia de Saneamento de Minas Gerais), in the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. One of the most important research and training centers for sanitation in Latin America, CePTS “encompasses several research units which receive sanitary sewage” from the local wastewater treatment plant after preliminary treatment. Of the many pilot-scale wastewater treatment technologies being studied by UFMG researchers at CePTS, is an upflow anaerobic sludge blanket reactor, followed by stabilization ponds and a rock filter. This system produces biogas with a high percentage of methane, and treated water that can be used for restricted irrigation. The system has been monitored and studied by UFMG researchers for over 10 years now (see http://www.sciencedirect.
During this trip to Belo Horizonte, Matthew and Paola received a tour of the research facility, and worked with UFMG PhD student Daniel Dias, who was collecting water samples. They also met with UFMG engineering professor Dr. Marcos von Sperling, and attended a research colloquium hosted by the UFMG Department of Environmental and Sanitary Engineering, where graduate students presented their work and advancements that have been made in their research to a committee of professors, who provided feedback. Reclaim Network at USF is to interact with and learn from a global network of engineers and practitioners who are dedicated to understanding and developing context-specific, geographically-appropriate, and culturally-relevant systems for managing and recovering water, energy and nutrient resources.
University of South Florida (USF) graduate student at the College of Marine Science Institute of Marine Remote Sensing, Abdiel Laureano-Rosario, has been awarded a prestigious NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) to pursue research that addresses public health risks in coastal areas. Specifically, he will be using novel tools such as remote sensing and machine learning, to understand how health is affected by vector-borne diseases and bathing water quality and how it may be related to local environmental changes. The results of Abdiel’s research will help determine which sectors of a population may be more or less susceptible to certain diseases based on environmental factors, which will provide essential information for risk management and mitigation. Remote sensing is the science of obtaining information about objects or areas from a distance, typically from aircraft or satellites. Abdiel will obtain data about regions in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), which is flown on two separate spacecrafts, named Aqua and Terra.
The purpose of the NESSF is to ensure continued training of a highly qualified workforce in disciplines required to achieve NASA’s scientific goals. The NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) supports basic and applied research in Earth and space science. The Earth Science Research Program, managed by the Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate, fulfills NASA’s mission to drive advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality, and stewardship of Earth (see NASA’s Strategic Plan) and, in particular, the strategic objective 2.2, which is to advance knowledge of Earth as a system to meet the challenges of environmental change, and to improve life on our planet. The Earth System Science component of NESSF encourages proposals that place particular emphasis on the utilization of NASA unique capabilities in study of the Earth. Foremost among NASA’s unique capabilities is its fleet of Earth observing satellites and sensors aboard the International Space Station, providing a comprehensive suite of measurements of all the components of the Earth system. The maximum amount of a NESSF award is $30,000 per year and the Earth Science component of NESSF encourages projects that link Earth science research with policy, business, or management studies. Abdiel has successfully linked Earth science research with pubic health policy and the management of risks.
Check out this course on Municipal Solid Waste Management in Developing Countries, being offered for free, online by EPFL and EAWAG: https://www.coursera.org/course/mswm
Part of a MOOC series on Sanitation, Water and Solid Waste for Development: http://www.eawag.ch/en/department/sandec/e-learning/moocs/
USF anthropologists and engineers recently completed a third season of ethnographic research and an initial season of water quality research on the Placencia Peninsula of Belize – a PIRE project Caribbean research site – investigating perceptions and practices of sustainable water, wastewater, and coastal environmental management, resource reclamation, and their intersections with expanding tourism development and public health. During a nine-week field season, USF anthropologists Drs. Christian Wells, Rebecca Zarger, and Linda Whiteford, MA Applied Anthropology graduate students Eric Koenig and Ann Vitous, and Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD student Christy Prouty continued exploration of these themes, with a specific focus of examining institutional relationships and strategies toward sustainable resource management.
As part of this undertaking, we conducted numerous semi-structured interviews with key stakeholder industry representatives and village leaders as well as elders in the communities on the peninsula to better assess connections between human, natural, and engineered systems and situate knowledge about water use, tourism, heritage, coastal health, and wastewater in a local ethnohistoric context. We also administered 25 extensive verbally-administered surveys using the KoBo application for smartphones to a stratified sample of residents, migrant workers, and tourists in different areas of the peninsula. Questions were iterative in design and content, informed by interviews and participant-observation from the 2013 Pilot and 2014 “Scaling up” seasons, and used to gauge resident, worker, and tourist perceptions of important issues. Finally, we continued participant observation and photographic documentation of the daily/weekly rhythms of local activities in public spaces to monitor tourism activity flows and how they impact local water resources, wastewater systems, and related environmental services.
Our final phase of PIRE field research in Belize also sought to extend the scope of community and educational outreach activities, and build interdisciplinary, international research partnerships. Ann Vitous, as part of her MA research investigating community perceptions of tourism development on environmental health, carried out a photovoice project from late May through mid-July. This project sought to identify how the various ways of experiencing development have influenced perceptions on the impacts to the environment, the livelihoods of local villagers, and interpersonal relationships between local and expatriate communities. Participants were given cameras and asked to photograph areas in the village that have been most impacted by development. Pictures from pre-development stages were also solicited from long-term residents of the village. Interviews were used to supplement the data collected from the photovoice project.
“We are losing a lot of our green. We are getting a lot of the lagoons filled in because for real estate, we are like red meat. I mean, the thing is, it has driven up the cost of real estate so much that an average local family, hardworking average local family, can no longer afford to buy property in Placencia, or on this peninsula anymore. The people with money end up coming in and developing the lagoon, filling up the lagoon property. At some point I can’t see our children getting land, so they will have to start moving away.”
Christy Prouty, as a component of her PhD research in Civil and Environmental Engineering, partnered with Belizean entrepreneur, Luis Garcia of EcoFriendly Solutions to consider functionality, use, and perceptions of various household and commercial onsite wastewater systems that reclaim water and nutrients from the treated effluent. Interviews were conducted prior to water and wastewater quality testing to assess a range of the system adopters’ operation and maintenance practices. This information, in conjunction with quantitative water quality data, will be used to provide recommendations on system design(s), users’ manuals, and best practices, educational materials, and signage for organizations where the public accesses their systems.
Our team also continued educational outreach at the primary school in Placencia village. Ann and Christy facilitated a week-long series of interactive lessons at St. John’s Memorial Anglican primary school for Mrs. Shivers’ Standard VI students. During the lessons, they covered the water cycle, environmental health, the future of water, sources of clean and dirty water, and health impacts of contaminated water in a local context. The week culminated by playing Jeopardy to review all that was taught.
Eric Koenig and Christian Wells continued work on a community-based cultural and environmental heritage conservation project in partnership with a recently established non-profit organization called the Seine Bight Reservoir to Museum Foundation, the Village Council, local representatives of the National Garifuna Council, and the St. Alphonsus primary school in Seine Bight village. The multi-year project seeks to facilitate the transformation of a historic water reservoir in the village into a local museum of Garifuna culture and history and promote the cultural, educational, and economic aspirations of the village and the wider Garifuna community through heritage conservation, tourism development, and education programs. The main objectives for the project’s second year were to continue fundraising efforts for the construction of the exterior of the museum, plan exhibit design, and coordinate heritage educational outreach and research training workshops. As part of these efforts, Eric, Christian, and members of the Foundation are working with teachers at St. Alphonsus primary school to develop a lesson plan for Standard 5 students focusing on visualization and inter-generational knowledge exchange about Seine Bight’s cultural heritage and environment in the past, present, and future, which likely will be piloted in the fall. Also, Eric coordinated three heritage research training workshops in partnership with the Seine Bight Reservoir to Museum Foundation to build community research capacity in oral history interviews and GPS mapping in an effort to collect historical and cultural information for future exhibits in the proposed museum.
Based on the opportunities and challenges of the heritage conservation, research, and local tourism development project, Eric presented a co-authored paper (with Christian and Sarita Garcia) entitled “Reclaiming Development: Community-Based Heritage Conservation and University-Engaged Research in Seine Bight, Belize” at the 13th annual Belize Archaeology and Anthropology Symposium in San Ignacio, Belize. The presentation was part of a special panel “Examining the Representation of Indigenous Peoples in Belize and the Region,” and was well received among other provocative papers in the panel.
Throughout the nine-week field season, we continued to forge interdisciplinary, international research partnerships. In early June, Drs. Marilyn Brandt and Kostas Alexandridis – PIRE partners from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) – visited the Placencia Peninsula to meet with our team to discuss coastal human-environmental research curriculum development and seek out opportunities for dialog and collaboration on wider coral reef restoration initiatives in the Caribbean with local environmental NGOs. Dr. Maya Trotz of USF Civil and Environmental Engineering also made a site visit at the beginning of June to witness and document coral reef restoration efforts by the Fragments of Hope NGO at Laughing Bird Caye National Park. Furthermore, Christy and Ann partnered with the Southern Environmental Association (SEA) NGO to take and share water and wastewater quality samples to determine baseline values of their EcoFriendly systems’ performance, and Eric volunteered with SEA and Blue Ventures as a sorter for the annual Lionfishing tournament held during Lobsterfest weekend on June 19th.
Over the next few months, we will compile and analyze results from the “Winding down” field season and continue collaborations on research, education, and outreach with our international community partners and PIRE colleagues at UVI, UB, and USF.
This week we are featuring Lorena Sanchez video on “Reclaim is… Seed preservation,” an important topic for food security and urban farming and gardening. When asked what made her think of this video Lorena told us about a conversation she had with her friend trying to grow a plant at home from a fruit. “I was inspired to make this video when I became aware of how little people around me knew about seed preservation. As an example, my friend who wanted to plant a guava plant told me that she had just stuck an entire unopened guava in the ground. I covered my face, dumbfounded by her reply. No, no, no, the whole guava probably just rotted underground like this, you have to dry and preserve the seeds, I told her.” So she decided to take the opportunity to teach other about seed preservation by making a video for the “Reclaim Is” video campaign. To learn more about seed preservation she recommends a video on rice seed preservation by women in Bangladesh: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOEVLxHMAGs
Lorena found out about the Reclaim Is video contest from a sign put up in her lab at the University of South Florida. “I did not think I had time to do a video however but then talking to Colleen I was inspired. She told me how many people in Africa were planting Monsanto seed and were no longer practicing seed preservation. I thought this was horrible as it just means big business controlling the poor even further and so I was inspired to look further into the topic. I then decided to make my video in an effort to teach people everywhere about the importance of seed preservation.”
When asked to tell us what Reclaim means to her Lorena replies, “Reclaim is closing loops (or circles). Just like the circle of life, all natural processes work in a circle and when human activities do not follow these circular patterns (like landfills) then the environment is thrown out of balance.” And she strongly believes in one of Reclaim’s tag lines when she says “In nature there is no such thing as waste as all of the nutrients go back to the earth in a balanced circle, or loop.”
Lorena Sanchez is an Environmental Engineering PhD student at the University of South Florida currently conducting research on Bamboo. To learn more about her work, you can check out her website: http://www.lorenasanchezvivas.com/
Check out Lorena’s video “Reclaim is…Seed Preservation” https://youtu.be/-iIz2_UN0BY
Today at 12:30 pm - Flint Water Study Updates at USF College of Engineering fb.me/1R8fwUxsI
Maya Trotz talking about Hurricanes & USF Caribbean Relief Efforts - WASH. Join us! fb.me/2nnZoI5wz