The continued influx of sargassum choking Blacktip Island’s beaches will be the focus of Sunday’s inaugural Stink Off festival at Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort, celebrating the rotting seaweed. (photo by Wendy Beaufort/BTT staff)
Blacktip Island will mark the beginning of summer this Sunday with its first-ever Stink Off Sargassum Festival, a lemons-to-lemonade approach to the waves of decomposing sea algae flooding the small Caribbean island’s beaches and coastal waters, organizers said Thursday.
“Sargassum’s here to stay, so we’re making the best of it,” Stink Off committee chair Jay Valve said. “Sure, all the rotting seaweed piled on the beaches make it tough to get to the water, and the smell’ll about knock you out if you’re downwind, but rather than cut and run, we’re gonna celebrate it.
“We’ll have a sargassum sculpture contest, a sargassum cook-off, and sargassum fights for the kids,” Valve said. “There’ll also be a swim-in-sargassum race, a name-that-biting-fly contest and a sargassum-themed parade on the beach, where participants will dress as sargassum, or any creature that lives in or around it. It’ll truly be fun for the entire family.”
Many on the island welcomed the event’s positivity.
“It’s great folks are focusing on how to move forward despite this stinky nuisance,” Angela Fisher said. “I’m looking forward to the Most Unusual Use contest—with ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ divisions—the sargassum-based skin care products and the Stank Neutralizer event. It’s also great they’re providing complimentary cortisone showers and oxygen treatment for all participants.”
Others questioned the wisdom of celebrating the decomposing algae.
“Big picture, embracing a nuisance is a great way to raise peoples’ spirits, but there is a downside, health wise, in this case” public health director Dr. Azul Tang said. “Rotting sargassum releases hydrogen sulfide. That’s what gives it that rotten egg smell. But hydrogen sulfide is also highly toxic and can cause severe respiratory distress, or even death.
“The idea of frolicking in miles of this stuff, of physical exertion while breathing large concentrations of toxic gas, is medically irresponsible,” Tang said. “We can’t stop it, though, so we’ll have both our medical staff nearby, with lassoes, to rescue any participants who pass out.”
Community leaders, meanwhile, are poised to make the most of the event.
“You’ve got to seize opportunities like this,” de facto island mayor Jack Cobia said. “We’re losing tourism dollars now because of the sargassum. This idea of Jay’s’ll turn that around. We’re gonna market Blacktip as the sargassum capitol of the Caribbean.
“We aim to get folks coming to Blacktip because of the sargassum,” Cobia said. “We’ll have a sargassum museum, interactive sargassum tours and an underwater viewing chamber. We’re also doing t-shirts, caps and hoodies made from 100 percent repurposed Blacktip Island sargassum. And they won’t be exported, so folks’ll have to come here to get them. Couple of us are also working on ways to bottle the gas to export for riot control.”
Stink Off activities are scheduled to start at noon Sunday at Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort. The parade will start at 4 p.m. Respirators are recommended for all events.