Massive gathering of vital seaweed in Surigao alarms concerned citizens

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 May) – The massive gathering of sargassum, the brownish floating seaweed commonly seen near the shore, has alarmed some concerned citizens in the city, fearing marine ecological imbalance.

Sargassum is aplenty at a warehouse of a local buyer in Barangay San Juan in Surigao City being sold for P8 a kilo in this photo taken May 21, 2013. This common brownish seaweed floating near the shoreline is being massively harvested in Surigao City and neighboring islands and exported to China. Common uses include animal feeds and liquid fertilizers. But concerned citizens are worried that the unabated harvest may cause marine ecological imbalance. MindaNews photo by Roel N. Catoto
Sargassum is aplenty at a warehouse of a local buyer in Barangay San Juan in Surigao City being sold for P8 a kilo in this photo taken May 21, 2013. This common brownish seaweed floating near the shoreline is being massively harvested in Surigao City and neighboring islands and exported to China. Common uses include animal feeds and liquid fertilizers. But concerned citizens are worried that the unabated harvest may cause marine ecological imbalance. MindaNews photo by Roel N. Catoto

Johanne Jake Miranda, dive master of the Surigao Dive Club, said he received several information from different island barangays in the city and in the neighboring islands of Dinagat, Siargao, and Bucas Grande that tons of sargassum are being transported continuously to the city everyday.

Miranda said this is quite alarming because this seaweed is essential to marine life.

Locally known as “samu,” Miranda said this seaweed must be protected otherwise there would be a drastic effect on the local marine life, eventually affecting fishermen, too.

He suggests that the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) conduct a monitoring or study of the massive harvesting of sargassum.

Nerio Casil, regional director of BFAR-Caraga, told MindaNews that for now, there is no existing law prohibiting the harvest of sargassum. He thus urged local government units (LGUs) to pass ordinances as a way of regulating in gathering the seaweed.

A study conducted by marine biologists at the University of the Philippines in Diliman noted that sargassum is “economically important” because it is being used as animal feed and liquid fertilizers, among others.

But Ariel T. Ortiz and Gavino C. Trono Jr., of UP’s Marine Science Institute, noted that sargassum proliferates “in vast areas along coastal waters housing myriad life forms, making them one of the most ecologically important and productive communities.”

In their study published in the Science Diliman journal in 2000, the scientists noted that “in 1987, fishermen in Central Visayas and Northern Mindanao claimed a decline in fish stocks and other associated marine organisms after tons of Sargassum were harvested and exported for seaweed meal.”

In the United States, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council considers sargassum as important in “provid(ing) crucial habitat for a wide variety of marine animals in the open ocean, including economically important pelagic species such as tuna, dolphin, wahoo and billfish as well as sea turtles and marine birds.”

Darwin Brian Lawas, a marine biologist of Green Mindanao Association, Inc., said the massive harvesting of sargassum must be controlled to prevent imbalance in the marine ecosystem that will affect fish and other living organisms. He said fishermen will suffer most in the long run.

Dried sargassum now sells P8 a kilo in the local market.

Tata Tribor, who works for one of the local sargassum buyers here, said they transport tons of dried samu to Cagayan de Oro City.

He said the seaweed is being exported to China.

Last year, City Councilor Christopher Bonite, chairperson of the committee on environment, had considered regulating harvest of the seaweed. But until today, he has not yet acted on it.

He said, he did not prioritize this matter because he learned that local buyers had stopped buying sargassum late last year.

Bonite said he did not expect the massive harvest of sargassum to resume.

Some island villagers are not happy with the massive gathering of the seaweed.

James Pejan, a Bantay Dagat member of Barangay Libuac here, said that he find this a destructive activity. “Even though there is no law or ordinance on this, this should be stopped or at least put some limit to their yield,” he stressed.

“Sargassum harvesters would just cut or uproot the seaweed as much as they could and don’t bother with replanting,” he added.

For those doing the harvesting, though, sargassum is a blessing.

Edgar Pigaro, also of Barangay Libuac, said he can gather up to 200 kilos a day. After three days of drying, he then sells it to local buyers in the city.

“At least we can use the money to buy rice and other needs,” he said.

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