France-USA Workshop on Sargassum in Galveston

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On January 17-19, 2018, the Galveston Campus of Texas A&M University (TAMUG) hosted the first France-US workshop on sargassum. Sargassum, a seaweed often found in the Atlantic Ocean, has been a constant of navigation and coasts for centuries, to the point that Columbus himself used it as an indicator for the proximity of land during his historical journey across the ocean. Because of massive landfalls on beaches on both sides of the Atlantic, Sargassum is often perceived as a nuisance by local populations as it covers beaches and brings a bad smell, both of these having a negative impact on the tourism revenue of coastal cities such as Galveston itself. A spectacularly large landfall during 2014 in the Less Antilles and French Guiana convinced the French government to start an international initiative on sargassum. As such, during the first symposium of the Caribbean Sea Commission, in November 2015, France succeeded in featuring the sargassum issue in the agenda of the Cartagena Convention, an agreement signed by 25 UN members from the region. At the French level, a cabinet-level report was ordered in 2015 and delivered in July 2016, offering clear recommendations for the management of sargassum landings in the concerned overseas territories.

In order to foster collaboration and facilitate communication between the French and American sargassum scientific communities, a workshop was organized under the auspices of the Office for Science and Technology (OST) of the Embassy of France. Issues addressed by researchers invited to the workshop included various topics such as the processes leading to the large sargassum drifting rafts, the relation between ocean warming and the algae proliferation, or how best to use satellite imagery to give early warning before a landing.

The workshop was organized within the FACT-O program (French American Climate Talks on Ocean) that was initiated a few years ago by the OST. FACT-O is dedicated to coordinating French - American initiatives on ocean-related areas and to disseminate knowledge on the state of the oceans to the general public. Overall, three dozen researchers came from France (Aix-Marseille Université, Toulouse) and the United States to participate in the workshop (Texas, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi).

The French delegation was led by Frédéric Ménard, director of the OCEANS department at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) which coordinates French oceanic expeditions for sargassum study. Several scientific profiles were represented, from oceanographers to marine biologists as well as phycologists (specialists of algae), physicists modelling oceanic currents, satellite imagery analysts… Furthermore, representatives of natural parks (Galveston State Park, Regional Activity Centre of Guadeloupe SPAW-RAC [1], City of South Padre Island) and the Coordinator of a United Nations program for environment in West Africa came to discuss the different ways developed around the world to deal with sargassum landings. Finally, representatives of US federal agencies such as NASA and NOAA also attended the workshop, as they regularly work alongside researchers on sargassum.

The workshop was introduced by the Counselor for Science and Technology of the Embassy of France, Dr Minh-Hà Pham, as well as by Colonel Fossum, former astronaut, Vice President of Texas A&M and Chief Operating Officer of TAMUG and by the Mayor of Galveston, James D. Yarbrough. The workshop received significant media coverage (see below) confirming the local community’s interest for the sargassum issue.

Several collaborative projects emerged from this workshop, particularly around the genetics of Sargassum populations between the Institut Européen d’Océanologie (Aix-Marseille Université/IRD) and the Eckerd College in Florida as well as on the modeling of Sargassum rafts from satellite data (Aix-Marseille, Toulouse, University of South Florida, University of Maryland). A joint funding request is planned as part of the Thomas Jefferson Fund’s call. To ensure the continuation of these collaborations, the researchers agreed to meet again by the end of 2018, probably in France this time.

To learn more about the workshop:,,,


[1The Regional Activity Centre for the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife for the Wider Caribbean Region