Destination Mexico for our Community Science Collaboration

I’ve just got back to my desk after a brilliant trip to Mexico – the highlight of my working year already. What a treat to be able to travel for work and connect with amazing people doing similar work and with similar interests across the globe!

The team hosted an inspiring and informative workshop in Mérida, Mexico, to conclude our Big Seaweed Search Mexico collaboration. This has been a two year partnership that saw the UK Big Seaweed Search project adapted to address the issue of massive seaweed influxes on Mexican beaches.

Over two days, we engaged with stakeholders from the local area, representing, academia/research, local government, community service organisations and local businesses that aim to repurpose the washed up seaweed, including SargaBlock and Carbonwave. The aim of this workshop was to:

  1. introduce our research and share results;
  2. invite stakeholder feedback and input to the recommendations that have emerged from our work;
  3. assess the benefits of our research to stakeholders;
  4. to encourage and facilitate conversation amongst stakeholders;
  5. develop opportunities to continue the project in the future.

Over two days we shared presentations on our own community science research studying the washed-up seaweeds in Mexico, listened to local stakeholders sharing their own research and action to address this issue, heard from each of the stakeholder groups through panel discussions, and held focused small group discussions to address key questions. The first day set the context and defined the issue that our work sought to address; project members presented the background to the collaboration and the initial findings. I’ll tell you more about these findings as they are published, but this workshop was especially interesting for bringing in the perspectives of the private sector and government/policy makers on the issue.

A photo of the Museum's presentation on day one of the workshop in Mexico.
This is me, presenting the background to the Big Seaweed Search Mexico collaboration at the workshop.

The workshop was attended by representatives from companies manufacturing everything from bricks and agricultural products to personal care and textile products, all derived from a washed-up seaweed called Sargassum. They spoke of the challenges and opportunities they face, for example the market for their products being hampered by a lack of awareness about the potential of Sargassum seaweed as a raw material amongst the public. Demand for Sargassum products is still simply too low for it to compete with the alternative products people are more familiar with, despite the environmental benefits of repurposing this resource which otherwise rots away on beaches and causes environmental and economic damage.

Those from policy and governance then discussed the legislative frameworks that are in place for the monitoring, collection and disposal of the excessive inundations of Sargassum on some Mexican beaches. Although Sargassum is part of a valuable ecosystem, in great volumes it is unattractive, damages the coastal ecosystem (e.g. coral reef bleaching, turtle populations) and releases toxins. Combined with the heavy metal content of the Sargassum accumulations, these toxins can damage human health if it’s not removed. There is currently no industrial infrastructure and only guidance for its extraction in this region; it was widely considered that this lack of legislative framework could be preventing meaningful collaboration between the government, industry and local communities, despite discussion of some very local successful examples.

It was clear by the end of the day – in agreement with the aims of our collaboration – that the management of excessive inundations of Sargassum on some Mexican coastlines requires prioritisation, coordination, funds, research support, social participation and focus.

It was so energising to hear about local ingenuity and innovation focused on this problem, and also motivating to recognise some of the challenges that remain and hear their enthusiasm for our work. We would like to say a huge thank you to the stakeholders in Mexico who took two days out of their busy schedules to work with us and share their invaluable expertise.

Team photo at the Big Seaweed Search Mexico workshop.
Team and stakeholder photo at the Big Seaweed Search Mexico workshop. Thanks to all who attended for making it such an inspiring event!

My next blog will share more on the local communities that took part in the community science monitoring of seaweed inundations, their research findings, and the wider benefits of the programme. These were the focus of the second day of the workshop.

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