Sargassum is once again arriving on the shores of the Caribbean, but the Virgin Islands is not ready.

Given the seaweed’s recent impacts in the territory, this is most unfortunate.

Last June, for instance, sargassum was sucked into the electricity plant at Pockwood Pond and caused widespread power outages on Tortola. About two months later, it damaged the main water plant on Virgin Gorda, leaving many residents struggling with water lock-offs and foul-smelling tap water.

Both these incidents were preventable had the government followed the advice in the well-conceived sargassum management strategy that was drafted last April with funding from the United Kingdom government’s Darwin Plus initiative.

But the government hasn’t adopted that strategy or properly funded it.

It should do both as soon as possible. Otherwise, the VI will continue to suffer from preventable adverse effects.

We are particularly troubled that a planned boom has not been installed to protect the Virgin Gorda water plant at Handsome Bay, where sargassum is already washing up once again.

Of course, the VI is not alone in this struggle. Indeed, of all the environmental issues affecting the Caribbean, sargassum is among the most obvious and the most ignored.

The excess blooms have plagued the region for the past 13 years, hitting coastlines hard during the spring and summer.

In 2022, the 15 member states of the Caribbean Community estimated that sargassum blooms caused $102 million in economic losses alone. That’s only a portion of the region’s total losses and doesn’t count costs as high as an estimated $210 million spent on removing the seaweed from shorelines each year.

The VI and other Caribbean islands did relatively little to cause this problem and lack the political power on the global stage to resolve it.

Though mitigation strategies can blunt the worst impacts, most jurisdictions have been slow to move beyond draft management plans or to provide adequate funding to execute the needed actions.

Additionally, no region-wide sargassum management strategy exists, and the international community has largely ignored the global problem.

These responses are woefully inadequate.

For the VI, the situation is a prime opportunity to take a leadership role, both by enacting sound local measures and by advocating for change on the world stage.

To that end, they must tell the territory’s story globally and continue to insist that the wealthy economies most responsible for climate change and global pollution help fund response and prevention efforts.

Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley is off to a good start in this regard, including by arguing at last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai that island-state economies are among the most vulnerable to climate change.

Similar advocacy should be done at the regional level to address the problem of sargassum outbreaks. And of course Dr. Wheatley, as the climate change minister, must ensure that the territory does all it can to proactively address the problem in its own backyard.

After all, the health of the region’s residents, environment and economy depends on getting this problem under control straightaway.