Mounds of sargassum at Hope Bay, Tobago, on Tuesday.

Citizens are being warned not to consume fish and other sea creatures which may be caught up in sargassum nets, warning that they may contain high levels of toxins which may be dangerous.

The advice comes from Climate Change Specialist with the Division of Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), Howard Mario Robin, who says sargassum has the ability to absorb high levels of toxins and heavy metals. He said depending on where the sargassum passes, it can extract toxins from that area and store it.

Speaking on Tobago’s Channel 5, Robin said it would not be in anyone’s best interest to consume fish caught in a web of sargassum, since it remains uncertain as to the toxicity of sargassum and its impact on the fish. He said sargassum is a home to many small fish and crabs and as a result, other fish follow a mass of sargassum as it floats through the sea to feed. Robin said the presence of sargassum is the new normal in the region and Tobago. However, he advised persons to avoid beaches with a heavy build-up of sargassum, since it gives out gases such as sulphur dioxide and ammonia when decaying. He said the presence of gases in the decaying seaweed can cause respiratory problems and vision problems.

He also said people should also not venture out into the seaweed since it is uncertain what species of fish may be trapped in the sargassum and how human beings would react to these species. He warned that the highly toxic Portuguese Man of War Jellyfish could also end up in a sargassum web.

Robin also revealed, that a Sargassum Response Committee has also developed a project to seek funding for testing on the safety of sargassum pertaining to its use in agriculture.

He said going forward, tests will now be done on sargassum in the areas where it is collected for agricultural purposes. He said the committee will then advise where sargassum may be collected to be used as a fertiliser.

Robin said as part of the project, air quality stations will be placed in areas where there is a heavy sargassum build-up and throughout Tobago. He said the findings from the monitors will be used to advise the public and alert health authorities.