A work crew begins to scrape the beach of incoming sargassum alongside the stretch of coastline near The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas on Friday, creating a six-foot-tall mound that is at least 10 feet in diameter. (Source photo by Bethaney Lee)

USVI - Here It Comes Again – Sargassum Stretches Across the V.I. Shoreline

Between the pandemic and predictions of an active hurricane season, island residents may find little energy left to worry about another problem that has been mounting over the past summer: what to do with the masses of sargassum washing onto some shorelines and decomposing there, releasing a sulfurous stench.

It’s hard even to understand the magnitude of the issue.

Try this. Put your arms out in front of you and separate your two hands by 36 inches. (Place them on either end of a yardstick, if you can find one.) Now imagine a big box that is a cube, 36 inches wide, 36 inches long and 36 inches deep.

Fill that box to the brim with a mass of the rotting algae. Now go to the landfill and empty the contents there.

Do that 7,860 times.

That’s how many cubic yards of sargassum has been dumped at the Bovoni landfill on St. Thomas so far this summer, according to the V.I. Waste Management Authority.

Things are not as bad on St. Croix. Charmin Springer, Waste Management spokeswoman, said that island has contributed 800 cubic yards of sargassum to the Anguilla landfill this year.

She did not have comparable figures for 2020.

With the exception of 2013, the Caribbean region has seen a massive influx of floating mats of sargassum each summer for the past 10 years. The phenomenon is markedly different from the centuries-old pattern of occasional bits of algae that drifted southward from the Sargasso Sea and often went unnoticed by most of the public.

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