Four days after government hosted a workshop to train public officers how to handle sargassum, the seaweed caused a widespread power outage on Sunday as the territory was affected by a regional heat wave.
Though the BVI Electricity Corporation and central government were mum about the shutdown as of the Beacon’s deadline yesterday afternoon, Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer circulated a WhatsApp message during the outage that briefly explained the situation.
“At 4:26 p.m., the seawater system which supplies cooling water to 55 percent of our diesel generators became compromised by sargassum seaweed,” according to the message, which Mr. Rymer confirmed he had posted in a group chat. “As such, the units which depend on this system shut down, causing a number of outages in various areas.”
The message added that the BVIEC was “working diligently” to rectify the issue as soon as possible.
During the outage, residents took to social media to vent their frustration, and their posts show that the outage extended across much of Tortola for about four hours and that power was restored to most areas by around 8 p.m.
The outage also disrupted public water service across much of the island from 8 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday, according to Government Information Services.
“The reason for this disruption is due to the power generation issues, which is [sic] limiting water production and the need to preserve adequate storage levels of water for day-to-day operations,” GIS stated in a press release issued Sunday evening.
In Pockwood Pond, BVIEC employees and others worked through much of the night with the help of a backhoe to clear away sargassum that swamped the shoreline and clogged the seawater intake system at the Henry W. Smith Power Station.
By around 11 a.m. Monday morning, they had mostly cleared the cove where the intake system collects water, but three men were still at work, using shovels, buckets and a net to remove the remaining seaweed from the area.
Nearby, however, more sargassum lined the shore adjacent the cove.
BVIEC Managing Director Dr. Neil Smith and Deputy Managing Director Symorne Penn did not respond to messages from the Beacon, and Chief Information Office Desiree Smith did not follow up after promising during the outage to provide information “as soon as it becomes available.” But the outage was the latest of several, many of which have not been explained in detail.
Following an earlier outage across much of Tortola on Friday, the BVIEC posted a brief comment on Facebook explaining that the Pockwood Pond station had “experienced technical difficulties” that “caused some customers to be affected.”
The statement apologised and noted that staff had “worked diligently” to restore the system, but it didn’t provide further information.
Last month, an island-wide outage occurred on May 6 following a 10:17 a.m. “fault” at the power station that caused a “total system shutdown,” the BVIEC announced later that day, adding that the entire grid was restored by 2:55 p.m.
Though the utility said the cause of the fault was under investigation, it did not follow up to provide more information.
The May 6 outage also left many residents without water in and around the Road Town area, government acknowledged at the time.
In recent years, the BVIEC has also been regularly shutting down power for a few hours at a time in certain areas across the territory on a rotating basis to carry out “maintenance of the high voltage system.”
The Sunday outage followed a “trainer’s workshop” organised by the government on May 30-31 for “stakeholders in sargassum management.”
“The aim of the workshop was to build the capacity of coastal and marine managers and users of sargassum to sustainably manage this threat,” according to a GIS press release. “The focus of the training was to increase understanding on the science of sargassum — its origins and ecological value, the principles of adaptive management, selection of tools and approaches for monitoring, clean-up and the rehabilitation of affected areas.”
The release stated that workshop attendees included representatives from the BVI Tourist Board, the National Parks Trust, Unite BVI, and the BVI Ports Authority. It did not mention the BVIEC.
The training was a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change; the Trinidad-headquartered non-profit Caribbean Natural Resources Institute; and the University of the West Indies Centre for Resources Management and Environmental Studies, according to GIS.
The workshop was held as part of the project “Sustainable Sargassum Management in Anguilla, the Virgin Islands, and Montserrat.” That project is funded by the United Kingdom government through the Darwin Plus: Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund under the Darwin Initiative.