Every year, the coasts of Puerto Rico experience a buildup of excess sargassum, a type of brown seaweed. Its decomposition creates a rotten smell that discourages tourism and negatively impacts the economy. Not only a stinky nuisance, the buildup of sargassum also has negative consequences for marine and human life. Decreased water oxygen levels coincide with the death of fish, and the emission of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia endanger the health of coastal communities and visitors. And, the problem is only getting worse: 2021 set new records for high levels of sargassum masses in the Caribbean Sea.
Spurred to action by the host of issues posed by the seaweed, the two-time Enactus Puerto Rico National Champions from Ana G. Mendez University Carolina Campus began searching for a remedy. “We are passionate about this issue because it is essential to create solutions for the improvement of our livelihoods and the creation of a better island (Puerto Rico) and a more sustainable world,” says Team President Crystal Díaz Colón.
The team — like other Puerto Ricans to come before them have done — resolved to find an ideal use for the seaweed. “Knowing that algae are plants, we researched its nutritional value and the minerals it contains,” says Díaz Colón. “We [found] that it would be the perfect raw material to create a biofertilizer.”
From this idea, the Puerto Rico National Champions created their project Bioswed, through which they turn the sargassum into two products: a liquid biofertilizer and a soil amendment. Because most of the team members have business administration backgrounds, they lacked some of the scientific and legal knowledge needed to turn their plan into reality. They overcame this challenge by seeking out partners to help bring their vision to life.
“We collaborated with environmental experts, such as engineers and agronomists, for the creation of the biofertilizer prototypes and compliance with environmental regulations, and with business experts for compliance with business regulations and laws for the development of our project,” Díaz Colón says.
Wanting to further the social responsibility of their enterprise, the team integrated an education and therapy program for individuals with Down syndrome and functional diversity. They also created an entrepreneurial ecosystem around the areas affected by the excess sargassum to invigorate the economy.
“…It is essential to create solutions for the improvement of our livelihoods and the creation of a better island (Puerto Rico) and a more sustainable world.”
—Crystal Díaz Colón, Team President
Long-term, the National Champions hope to take their product nationwide.
Ana G. Mendez University Carolina Campus will represent Puerto Rico at the Enactus World Cup starting 14 October, where the team will present their project alongside 32 other Enactus National Champions. There, they will demonstrate their innovation in business and its impact on the world as they vie for their chance to become the Enactus World Champion.
Learn more and register to attend Enactus World Cup at enactus.org/worldcup.