A recent article in the Trinidad Express focused on the Blanchisseuse Environmental Art Trust (BEAT), a local community initiative to manage stocks of wild seamoss:
If you love sea moss punch, but haven’t tasted sea moss from Blanchisseuse, then you haven’t tried the best there is, the Express was told.
The waters off this North Coast village have some of the rarest and highest quality of sea moss. This species is called gelidium serrulatum and it’s known to have the best quality of agar (the gelatinous extract of red alga) than any commercial seaweed species in the Caribbean. The sea moss grows on rock surfaces in especially rough waters between Las Cuevas and Toco.
You can search the length and breadth of the rest of the Caribbean for this species, but you wouldn’t find it.
So far, gelidium serrulatum has been recorded off the north coast of Trinidad, and in the waters off Venezuela and South Africa and nowhere else. There are about ten species of seaweed that can be harvested for human consumption, with the species gracilaria and eucheuma being among the most common in the Caribbean.
For years Tobago’s sea moss harvesters have noted with concern a decline in sea moss. The verdict is still out on whether this decrease is a direct result of climate change or water pollution caused by waterfront properties or incorrect harvesting methods.
In a survey conducted by the Blanchisseuse Environmental Art Trust (BEAT) within the community, among the 14 sea moss harvesters interviewed, more than 60 per cent believed that sea moss was getting harder to find.
The BEAT president Kenneth Fournillier told the Express that the rarity and superior quality of the gelidium serralutum species made it particularly vulnerable to indiscriminate harvesting. The plants are attached to the substrate with a tough holdfast, which was usually removed from the plant when it is harvested, leaving no base to regenerate new shoots—leaving reduced supplies for the next season.
Not only was this species at risk, so were the livelihoods of those dependent on the sea moss. Something had to be done to preserve this rare species and important Blanchisseuse tradition.
[Photo: Taran Rampersad]