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Sargassum, bane of Yucatán’s beaches, could be useful on the farm

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Sargassum builds up on a popular beach in Progreso in June 2017. Photo: File

Sargassum, a nutrient-rich algae which commonly washes up on Yucatán Peninsula’s beaches, may serve as an environmentally friendly fertilizer alternative, said a university researcher.

Daniel Gonzalez, who works at Mexico’s Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC) researching the uses of sargassum in agriculture, admits to the wire service EFE that the algae infesting Mexican beaches “generates visual pollution, as well as emitting contaminating gases.”

But it has the potential to be useful.

Sargassum floats for long distances across the sea, along the way picking up nutrients – the feedstock for the proposed fertilizer.

However, it also gathers a “large proportion of metals,” which must first be removed from the nutrients in the dehydrated algae so that the latter can be used.

The algae – which is usually brown, green or black – floats for miles on the Atlantic Ocean before reaching the shores of the Mexican Caribbean or along the Gulf of Mexico.

Processing sargassum into something useful, according to González, consists of submitting the seaweed to a drying process. Once dehydrated, it is possible to separate the metals from the nutrients.

“Sargassum is very rich in nutrients … but they have metals in greater proportion; that’s why the strategy is to remove those metals and take advantage of the nutrients,” he explained.

The algae could also function as biological control agents to keep possible post-harvest diseases at bay.

Sargassum does more than ruin beaches for sunbathers. Fish are also affected by the sargassum, because when it builds up, its decomposition process hogs the oxygen in the water.

According to the expert, there are several hypotheses as to why sargassum has grown in the last years on the coasts of the Yucatán Peninsula.

One reason is climate change, resulting in warmer sea water.

Source: EFE

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