Mexico: a man turns invasive algae into sustainable bricks



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Mexico: a man turns invasive algae into sustainable bricks

On Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, a gardener and small business owner Omar de Jesús Vazquez Sánchez has turned an invasive algae into a resource. Sargassum is an invasive seaweed with a very strong smell that creates a major problem for tourism, as it accumulates on the beaches in the area.

Omar has implemented a technique for using seaweed as the base material for eco-friendly bricks, the sargablok. His project, in which the United Nations Development Program is also investing, also has a social purpose. In addition to solving the problem of invasive algae in a sustainable way, it also aims to offer a home to those in need.

Mexico: a man turns invasive algae into sustainable bricks

To make the bricks, the man mixes 40 percent sargasso with other organic materials, such as clay, and then puts it into a concrete block-forming machine. The blocks cook in the sun for several days before being ready to use.

This is how his sargablocks are born. Sánchez said he used 3,000 tons of sargassum in 2021, 2,000 tons last year. By early April 2023, he had already used 700 tons. The United Nations Development Program has selected Omar de Jesús Vazquez Sánchez's sargassum transformation work for its Accelerator Lab, a project that identifies and disseminates creative solutions to global environmental and sustainability challenges.

A joint study by British and Ghanaian universities found that blocks made from organic material such as sargasso can last 120 years. The Quintana Roo Offices of Ecology and Environment have concluded that the blocks are safe for use in construction.

According to data, the Quintana Roo state government collected 19,000 tons of sargasso from beaches in 2020, 44,000 tons in 2021 and 54,000 tons last year. According to studies, the amount could almost double this year, especially as the invasion arrived months before the typical start of the sargassum season, which is in late May.