Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Seaweed Saga

Each year we encounter the problem of seaweed. In the summer months it is often washed up on our beaches upsetting locals and tourists alike.
Seaweed is a naturally occurring algae and tends to bloom in early summer. When the wind is in the right or should I say wrong direction it appears on the beach.
Seaweed is good for the health of our marine environment as it absorbs much of the nasties that find their way into our seas. Similarly sunlight and increased sea temperatures also increase its production. Take also excessive shellfish harvesting of creatures that eat algae and this adds to why amounts appear to be increasing.
Many of the older generation remark that we have always had this problem in Thanet but in the ‘olden days’ it was carted away by farmers to put on their fields. However in later years this practice has declined as agricultural land was built on and allegedly more efficient nitrates were used on remaining fields.
After the decline of use for agriculture the local council used to remove it and dump it much to the annoyance of residents in those areas where it was placed.
The favoured action in recent years was to push it back out to sea with bulldozers. This was not effective as usually it only moved the problem to another bay. The best example of this was in 2010 when the bulldozed weed in Palm Bay migrated to Walpole Bay. This with what was already in Walpole Bay ended up several feet thick. Last year, after many complaints, the council breathed a sigh of relief when the wind changed to a favourable direction and the bulldozed weed scurried off in the direction of Herne Bay.
At this time of the year it is easy to put the “Seaweed Saga” on hold and then my word next summer we are again attempting short term solutions to the problem.

Seaweed Uses
Seaweed is an incredible resource. I list some of uses below but as a non-scientist I will leave readers to research the many papers available on the internet.
1. Fertilizer.
2. Cosmetics
3. Pharmaceutical
4. Food additives (i.e. for ice cream)
5. Biofuel and biomass fuel
6. Alternative medicine
7. Baths
8. Waste water treatment
9. Food
10. Animal feed
I am sure there are more but it does demonstrate that there could be an alternative to just pushing it back into the sea like a modern day King Canute.

The Debate
There has been considerable debate both in the council and outside but there appears to be no solutions, joined up thinking or resolve to get a grip on the situation.
Could we not find a use for it and market it or is this too simple? I do not want to create a "stink" but avoid one. We need someone to take a strong lead on this one. Surely we can find a long term solution by pulling all the interested parties together including those with a scientific background. There may even be economic benefits and savings to our council’s much stretched budget.

Unless we find a solution soon the problem will continue to wash up on our beaches every summer.

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