Innovation That Matters

In 2019, St Barths experienced its worst invasion of sargassum yet | Photo source Sargasse Project

Caribbean startup converts toxic seaweed into paper


A resident of St Barths founded the Sargasse Project, which aims to transform harmful vegetation into marketable paper pulp

Spotted: Since 2011, the coastlines of St Barths and other Caribbean Islands have come under attack for their toxic seaweed, which is an ever-growing ecological phenomenon. Having been a resident of St Barths for seven years, PierreAntoine Guibout recently founded the Sargasse Project, an innovative and homegrown project which aims to transform 100 per cent of this harmful vegetation into marketable paper pulp. This raw material has the same cellulosic properties as paper, while also being supple and resistant enough to be made into cardboard.

The accumulation of Sargassum seaweed, a form of brown micro-algae, poses great threats to the surrounding marine ecosystem by destroying coral reefs and killing off certain species. As it dries, the seaweed releases odorous gases which can cause severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, respiratory difficulties and vertigo. Once enough seaweed has accumulated, it even has the power to cut through metal.

In 2019, St Barths experienced its worst invasion of sargassum yet, with almost 9,200 tons of the seaweed collected for a total cost of €1,350,000. The costs only cover the collection and transportation of the seaweed to storage sites. An even greater challenge remained about how to dispose of it. 

Guibout, recognising the disastrous effects that sargassum has on island beaches and marine species, knew something needed to be done and began working on ways to convert the seaweed into a useful biomaterial. He experimented first with the idea of shoe polish, and finally landed on a paper product which went on to win the Outremer Innovation award in November 2019 and received the Jury’s Special Mention at the BNP Paribas “Act for Impact” pitch during the 2020 Change Now Summit.

Written by: Tabitha Bardsley

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