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Caribbean Environment Program
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Regional cooperation on the Sargassum issue

Since 2011, proliferations of pelagic Sargassum populations have been observed around the Caribbean region and West Africa, including in locations where they were so far absent or extremely rare. While the Sargassum ecosystem is ecologically important, its proliferation resulted in massive landings which impacted the two regions in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. The particular important influx observed between 2014 and 2015 have been accompanied by increased interest and communication on the subject.

During the 8th conference of Parties of the SPAW Protocol in Cartagena in December 2014, the Parties agreed to add into the Workplan an activity related to the Sargassum influx. This mandate strongly helped to contribute to the identification of related initiatives of the region and to make possible the development of regional cooperation initiatives, including with the support of the SPAW-RAC and UNEP-CEP / SPAW Secretariat.

The ongoing cooperation has enabled the sharing of experience and knowledge through a range of collaborative and informative tools (Sargassum on-line forum, GCFI fact sheet, CERMES Website), and several collaborations between different institutions have been initiated (research sector, tourism, etc.).

Regarding the scale of the issue and its related impacts, in particular to the tourism in the Caribbean and the coastal activities (fisheries, nautical activities) in both regions, the importance of an international coordination has been recognized and different international associations of States have already showed their interest (Association of Caribbean States, Organization of Eastern Caribbean States). Furthermore, a collaboration between UNEP-GPA, Abidjan and Cartagena Conventions Secretariats, SPAW-RAC and the USAID WABBIC Programme allowed to raise the information at a global scale by enabling the holding of a Side-Event on Sargassum during the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) representing the highest level of governance of international environmental affairs in the UN system.

SPAW-RAC and UNEP-CEP activities on cooperation around the Sargassum issue have been presented during the 68th annual meeting of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute and the Sargassum regional conference held by the British Virgin Islands Government and Virgin Unite in partnership with the OECS, the Caribbean Council and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The presentation is available below.

The Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies of the University of the West Indies together with the SPAW-RAC, the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute and the University of Southern Mississippirecently led the preparation and circulation of a [Sargassum management brief with the aim of assisting government officials, coastal managers, beach caretakers and coastal residents by offering guidance on how best to sustainably manage the massive landings associated with the sargassum influx, based on lessons learnt to date.

One of the next steps of this on-going collaboration, with the support of the Association of Caribbean States, is to develop specific and short recommendations (several fact sheets and interactive videos). These will be prepared for each group identified according to the specific context of the landing areas (e.g. beach width, beach composition, enclosed bays, turtle nesting areas, wave action, etc.).

During the GCFI 69th annual meeting, the SPAW-RAC and the SPAW Secretariat hosted a technical session «Understanding and management of the pelagic Sargassum influx in the Caribbean » in collaboration with the Association of Caribbean States, the CERMES - UWI, the Sargasso Sea Commission and UNEP-Global Programme of Action and Global Partnership on Nutrient Management. More information about this session is available here.

To be invited to the Regional Sargassum on-line forum, please send an email to sargassum.forum@gmail.com mentioning your full name, country, position (field), and organization.