Sargassum at sea (image by Tam Warner Minton/Flickr)
Sargassum grass is a type of brown algae that floats in small patches or gathers into large masses and can be found in every ocean except the Antarctic. The first written report of sargassum dates back to 1492 by Christopher Columbus (don’t get me started on the different names I have encountered for this famous explorer!).
Like every living force, sargassum has some great properties and some that we could do without. Here in The Yacht Club at Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico, the big negative is the smell emitted by the algae as it dies on the shore line and releases sulphur compounds that smell like rotten eggs on steroids!
But this floating grass also has benefits for the ocean. As many as 52 varieties of fish were found to take shelter and find food within this floating algae off of North Carolina. Sargassum grass offers a moving habitat for fish in parts of the ocean where no other is available.
Interestingly, a study by the North Carolina National Estuarine Reserve states, “The Sargassum community occupies such a large dimension of the upper water column (up to 3 m depth) and is typically so diverse that one gear or collection method cannot effectively sample it all.”
In studying the algae columns, researchers found that there is something of a layering habitat within the sargassum where smaller fish live in the algae, slightly larger juvenile fish live below the grass and larger predators such as dolphins swim further down in the water.
Small gas-filled spheres that look like berries keep the seaweed afloat. (naturetime.worpress.com)
In recent years, sargassum has become so prolific that it has caused issues along some beaches, creating foul smells as it rots on the shore, deterring vacationers from visiting popular resort destinations. Additionally, the grass can be so dense in places that it inhibits the movement of hatching sea turtles on their way to the water, causing them to die before reaching the ocean. But once in the water, small turtles also find food and shelter within the sargassum algae.
The benefits of sargassum are not limited to fish and turtles.
Since the eighth century, traditional Chinese medicine has used sargassum as a natural diuretic and for treating goiters and thyroid deficiencies. Additionally, the algae is nutrient dense and contains carbon, making it an excellent fertilizer. The government of Tobago is encouraging farmers to use this algae as fertilizer on crops.
Experts believe these main factors are causing the increase in sargassum grass;
- higher ocean temperatures which allows this tropical plant to thrive
- polluted waters carrying higher nutrients that act like a fertilizer for the sargassum
- changing “liquid boundaries” in the ocean caused by storms and high winds help spread sargassum throughout the oceans
Sargassum drift near The Yacht Club only two weeks after a clean up.
Most days as I head out for my walk here at Palmas del Mar, I hold my breath as I pass one area ripe with rotting sargassum grass. Even though the marina is doing all it can to collect and remove the plant, I gag a little on days when the smell is strong.
So I’m glad I researched sargassum and can at least appreciate the benefits it offers instead thinking it is just a “smelly weed.” Perhaps the next time you are confronted with the obnoxious odor of this algae as it decomposes, you will be able to consider its’ benefits like I am now and both of us will resent the smell a little less.
As always, thank you for visiting our blog. We love hearing your comments. If you are interested in seeing more of our everyday activities, please visit our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44
Our early departure from Gilligan’s Island meant we arrived in Ponce by 7 am. The anchorage was pretty quiet at that hour except for the Ponce Marine Policia who followed us into the anchorage and politely waited for us to anchor before approaching our boat. Apparently when they spotted our boat and looked up our information, they did not show that we had checked into the country. Fortunately Frank had a record of his conversation with the Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS) officer and he had the confirmation number of our check in via the telephone. The Ponce Police were very nice and respectful to us and soon the misunderstanding was resolved. The Policia returned our paperwork and wished us a happy Memorial Day weekend. A police stop is one way to get your heart rate up early in the morning.
We didn’t spend enough time in Ponce to rent a car and go into the heart of town so we really don’t know what it has to offer. Instead we walked the (mostly closed) boardwalk where only a handful of people were strolling about. Apparently things don’t get started there until evening, (surprise) but we were too tired to go back to the boardwalk that night, especially with another 4 am wakeup planned. Obvously, we are not your source for information about Ponce.
Beautiful scenes on our way to Jobos Bay
There was a bit of a storm brewing in the Atlantic Ocean and along with every other boater in the area, we were keeping an eye on the weather. We left especially early for Salinas the next morning with the express purpose of looking into a suggested hurricane hole near the Salinas anchorage just in case the storm developed.
We guided LIB through the mangrove lined inlets and fingers just east of Salinas in Jobos Bay and basically toured the area to determine if it would be a good spot to wait out a hurricane if the storm developed. (Yes, it is, but the area is protected and you cannot anchor there until a storm is imminent.)
Mauna Kea looks pretty in the evening colors.
After a pretty thorough reconnaissance mission, we went back to Salinas and anchored near Laurie and Ken of s/v Mauna Kea. We were really excited to catch up with the only other 2016 Sail to the Sun Rally boat gliding around Puerto Rico and still exploring outside of the States!
We spent a couple of days in Salinas hanging out with Ken and Laurie who were experts on the area since they had been there for more than two weeks. The marina in Salinas welcomes anchored cruisers and has a nice dinghy dock which we have learned is sometimes hard to find. The marina has a little bar/restaurant as well as washer/dryer and showers. Very helpful to the cruising community.
Are you jealous of that exotic blue leopard material?
There is a decent grocery store about a third of a mile from the marina and Laurie lent us her collapsable grocery cart to make the walk home easier. For these last two years, Frank and I have carried our groceries home in backpacks and reusable bags, but this little cart made the walk so much easier that I have already ordered my very own collapsable cart.
We hung out in Salina a few nights waiting to see what would become of the storm in the Atlantic that was projected to head toward Puerto Rico. Fortunately the storm dissipated and we would not need to seek refuge in Jobos Bay.
Look how bright and well defined the colors are in this rainbow!
Rain has been plentiful here in Puerto Rico so the salt water is routinely rinsed from our decks and we have seen many pretty rainbows. I especially liked how vibrant the colors were in the rainbow pictured above.
Patillas is at the foot of these lush hills.
Mauna Kea and Let It Be left Salinas and headed for Patillas where we would stop before our final jump to The Yacht Club Marina at Palmas del Mar; our stopping point for this hurricane season.
Ken strikes a pose after anchoring Mauna Kea!
Once anchors were set and a quick rain shower had rinsed our decks, Laurie, Ken, Frank and I dinghied into town to stretch our legs and check out the town. We strolled to the left, then we strolled to the right and about 30 minutes later we had pretty much traversed the waterfront area of Patillas and Captain had enjoyed plenty of sniffing and calling card deposits.
Ken, Frank and Captain chilling in the shade and watching the activity.
Rain was threatening again so we found a little outdoor spot with plenty of umbrellas and enjoyed lunch while watching the comings and goings along the main street. We were surprised that there seemed to be a lot going on here even though the town was tiny.
Can you tell we were caught in the rain? Maybe I need a selfie stick? Or longer arms?
Our lunch table was right on the main road and we had the perfect spot to observe the comings and goings in Patillas.
Disco bus for elders??
I have no idea what was up with this bus but the folks on board were having a grand time and the lights on the bus were flashing all kinds of random patterns. We couldn’t decide if it was a tour bus (but there were no blaring announcements) or if a retirement home had gone all out on their day bus!
I wish I could have captured the lights and music in a picture!
Lights and bling are obviously emphasized in Patillas as is evidenced by the ice cream truck we saw on the main street just as we were finishing lunch.
WAIT!!!!!! Did you say ice cream truck? Well we paid our lunch bill and took off after that ice cream truck. I felt like we were part of a cartoon comedy because every time we got close to the truck, he moved on! But we persisted and finally managed to catch the ice cream man!
I didn’t see any bomb pops but we found plenty to enjoy.
After strolling the beach front and eating our ice cream, we had pretty much exhausted Patillas so we headed back to our sailboats and simply enjoyed the view from our boats.
Once again we were leaving before sun up so it was early to bed for all of us. But at least we had a chance to walk around a bit, and had a short jog chasing the ice cream truck!
A stellar final sunrise!
Our final sunrise as we motored toward Palmas del Mar was stunning. The sun sprayed golden rays across the ocean and brought forth a beautiful day for our final push along the southern coast of Puerto Rico.
We arrived at The Yacht Club at Palmas del Mar and were warmly welcomed my the great team who runs this marina. In the fall of 2015 when we were preparing LIB to be our live aboard home, we had spent almost two months here and we were thrilled to see the same fabulous folks here upon our return.
Sunset from The Yacht Club
I truly cannot say enough positive things about the staff at The Yacht Club Marina. They are the most caring, helpful, happy and kind people we have met. And they are very organized and efficient.
Full moon rises over the rock jetty at The Yacht Club
This is a wonderful place to while away our time during hurricane season and if we must be on the dock, I can’t think of a better place.
As always, thank you for visiting our blog. We would love to hear from you in the comments below. If you are interested in seeing more of our everyday activities, please visit our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44