Sargassum Inundations in a Social Ecological Context

Author: ORCID icon
Gazin, Jean, Environmental Sciences - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Macko, Stephen, AS-Environmental Sciences (ENVS), University of Virginia
Galloway, James, AS-Environmental Sciences (ENVS), University of Virginia
Ribeiro, Natasha, Forestry, Eduardo Mondlane University


Sargassum Inundations in a Social Ecological Context

Pelagic sargassum seaweeds have experienced explosive spatial and temporal range expansion throughout the Atlantic Basin in the last decade. Beyond the thriving ecosystem of the Sargasso Sea, the recent proliferation of sargassum now includes the entire region between the equator and 40° North, effectively doubling the previous range. This new patch of macroalgae stretches zonally from West Africa to the Caribbean and is detrimental when it washes ashore and decomposes, polluting air, land, and sea. Sargassum inundations negatively impact coastal ecosystems, local communities, human health, and economies on both sides of the Atlantic.

A Social Ecological Systems (SES) approach to sargassum inundations will help illustrate this complex environmental situation while acknowledging humankind’s role in the system. SES thinking builds a framework that incorporates causes, results, and feedback loops, creating a method to expand upon current modes of thinking and information sharing.

Anthropogenic climate change may be driving the dispersal of sargassum, and eutrophication is fertilizing the sargassum patches. Impacted communities must quickly adapt and develop mitigation procedures. Disposal techniques have proven expensive and environmentally harmful. Creating a market for this new biomass will incentivize the creation of effective harvesting techniques. Proposals to intentionally sink sargassum as a method of carbon sequestration or to create biofuel may be both lucrative and globally beneficial strategies.

MA (Master of Arts)
pelagic sargassum, sargassum inundations, social ecology, social ecological context, social ecological systems
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