Currently, there is a documented lack of reliable long-term marine data resources to support the development of strategies and policies related to sustainable use of the marine environment around Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean and adjacent countries in Latin America. The region is facing many coastal hazards including tsunamis, large amounts of Sargassum seaweed beaching on coastlines and frequent unreported oil spills.
In recent years, the Caribbean region has faced challenges from oil spills and an influx of floating sargassum seaweed. Large-scale oil spill incidents have included an April 2017 spill at Pointe-à-Pierre, Trinidad and Tobago and a July 2017 oil spill in Kingston Harbor, Jamaica. Illegal dumping of oil-contaminated waste by ships operating in the region is also a common occurrence. An increase in the frequency and volume of sargassum beachings and coastal overabundance has caused another challenge for the region with mats preventing the deployment and retrieval of fishing gear and clogging popular beaches, harbors and bays.
The International Oceanographic Commission (IOC) established the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Tsunami and other Coastal hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions. While the tsunami early warning system has been successfully developed, the region lacks integrated monitoring and forecasting information required to develop early warning systems for sargassum and oil spills in the Wider Caribbean. In response, IOCARIBE and its GOOS Regional Alliance IOCARIBE-GOOS in association with GEO Blue Planet and partners outlined a pilot project to support an integrated approach to monitoring concentrations of Sargassum weed and oil spills—both significant regional water-borne threats.
Important progress has been made by several countries of the region in the development of a Sargassum and Oil Spills Information and Forecasting System for the Wider Caribbean as a tool to minimize the impact of Sargassum rafts on its coastlines and promoting best practices for managing/utilizing any Sargassum. The system also addresses oil spills that are a critical issue in this region with a high traffic shipping lanes.
IOCARIBE of IOC UNESCO, its GOOS Regional Alliance IOCARIBE-GOOS and GEO Blue Planet are working with partner organizations and stakeholders to develop a multi-hazard information and forecasting system for the Wider Caribbean. The project will first focus on sargassum and oil spills and expand to include additional hazards as identified by local stakeholders.
Kick Off Workshop
A kick off workshop of 40 experts from 15 countries was held in May of 2018 to discuss Sargassum and oil spill monitoring in the Caribbean and Adjacent regions. The participants included representatives from various United Nations entities, academia, governments, private companies and international initiatives.
The workshop was organized by IOCARIBE of IOC UNESCO and its Global Ocean Observing System Regional Alliance, IOCARIBE-GOOS, and the GEO Blue Planet Initiative, and hosted by the Ministry of Education of Mexico and Mexico National Council of Sciences.
Networking of existing efforts
Networking is on going between 17+ efforts related to sargassum monitoring and forecasting in the wider Caribbean. These efforts include work being conducted by:
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Collecte Localisation Satellites
- University of South Florida
- Texas A&M University at Galveston
- University of the West Indies
- and more!
The NOAA CoastWatch/OceanWatch program is developing a sargassum in situ validation database to improve sargassum detection.
A sargassum database inventory is in progress that will allow for a better understanding of how the different stakeholders maintain sargassum information and design and implement the best practices to migrate them into an interoperable environment.
Oil Spill Activities
Networking is ongoing to connect the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency, Information and Training Centre – Caribe (REMPEITC) with relevant experts related to oil spill monitoring and forecasting and support their efforts to develop a GIS-based Environmental Hazard Mapping System.
Satellite Detection of Oil Spills
Resources are being sought to development of a satellite based oil spill monitoring program for oil spills in the wider Caribbean. This program would provide satellite-based analyses for oil spill incidences and issue reports on anomalous features in satellite imagery that are suspected to be caused by an accidental or intentional oil discharge.