Ever wonder how the pristine shores of beachfront resorts seem to always stay so clean and pleasant? Well, in fact, they aren’t always clean and pleasant. All along the North American coastlines, there are dedicated people working at the break of dawn to rake up the invasive seaweed known as sargassum. They collect approximately 40 tons of this smelly seaweed every single day!
Thankfully, one of these individuals has come up with an innovative solution to the unsightly sargassum problem, and it’s a solution that is helping humanity in numerous inspiring ways.
Nothing ruins a hard-earned day of relaxing on the beach like a stinky clump of seaweed filled with gnats buzzing around. But this particular type of invasive algae isn’t just unpleasant to witness on vacation, it begins to rot as soon as it washes up on shore and gives off an odor of expired fish (not ideal for tourism). It’s also very costly to clean, it affects marine life, and long exposure to it can even cause respiratory issues! 1
Scientists believe that high levels of nitrogen from agricultural waste and runoff from deforestation are to blame for the increasing amount of sargassum that has been washing ashore in recent years. The timeframe that it is in bloom has also increased in the past decade. The sargassum season used to consist of approximately three months. Nowadays, it can stretch up to nine months. In 2021, the Mexican government alone collected 38,000 metric tons of it from their beaches. The waves of sargassum are often so large that they can be spotted from outer space! 2
Holy smokes, that’s a lot of seaweed! So what can be done about it?
This is the part of the story where Omar Vascez steps in.
Vascez was born in Mexico and left with his mother to live in the USA at a young age. Years of struggle and experiencing homelessness led to addiction and other hardships. After overcoming these challenges, he decided to return to his roots in Mexico. He bought some land and started up a plant nursery business that also offered beach cleaning services. He noticed the insane amount of this surplus sargassum and wished it could be utilized as a resource. And that’s when the lightning bolt of inspiration struck!
Omar created a few prototype molds from wooden planks, and before he knew it, he was well on his way to creating the world’s first sustainable building brick made of…you guessed it, sargassum! These “Sargablocks” are made by pounding dried sargassum into a fine powder, blending it with dirt, sifting out any rocks or large particles, then mixing it with water and setting it into a mold to dry and harden. Voila! The result is a sustainable and super sturdy building block that is ideal for home construction.
Why stop at the blocks? Let’s build!
Omar didn’t stop there. He noticed the need for housing in his community, which really struck a chord with him because of his own personal experiences. His business, BlueGreen Mexico, began to construct houses out of Sargablocks for families in need.
Throughout this process they discovered that Sargablocks are not only strong enough to withstand tropical storms and hurricanes, but they are an excellent natural insulator. Sargablocks help to keep homes cool in the summer and hold in the heat during colder months. How extraordinary!
This fantastic video by Business Insider gives us a closer look at Omar’s backstory and the Sargablock-making process. See it for yourself, it’s really wild how much seaweed his teams are raking up every day!
Remarkable to watch, isn’t it? If you’re hungry for more ingenious entrepreneur stories, check out the Business Insider YouTube channel here.
A lovely reminder to make the most of what we’ve got.
One of the things that resonated with me the most about Omar’s story is that he really took what he had and ran with it in ways that nobody before him could. Each little puzzle piece from his past—the good, the bad, and the smelly—came together to create a beautiful picture of a brighter future. A future with cleaner beaches, safe housing for those who need it most, and a mindset fueled by possibility.
Since 2018, his company, BlueGreen Mexico, has held dozens of fundraisers to benefit vulnerable groups and built over 40 homes for families in his community.
And the innovation isn’t stopping with Sargablocks! As mentioned in the video, companies around the world are coming up with new inventive ways to repurpose sargassum. It’s being made into paper and cardboard and even being transformed into footwear!
Putting together our own puzzle pieces.
Omar Vascez took inspiration from his own life and turned it into a legacy that will last far beyond his lifetime. So I ask you this, dear reader: what puzzle pieces can you pull from your own life to make the world a better place? The lightning bolt of inspiration that you’re searching for might be waiting for you right outside your door if you stay open to it.
Keep dreaming, and notice the beauty around you!
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- Sargassum Inundation Events (SIEs): Impacts on Human Health | US EPA. US EPA. Published July 5, 2023. Accessed January 23, 2024. https://www.epa.gov/cyanohabs/sargassum-inundation-events-sies-impacts-human-health#:~:text=Prolonged%20exposure%20to%20hydrogen%20sulfide,memory%20loss%2C%20and%20neurocognitive%20impacts.
- Thomson J. Huge Seaweed Clump Seen From Space as It Moves Toward Florida. Newsweek. Published April 11, 2023. Accessed January 23, 2024. https://www.newsweek.com/seaweed-sargassum-floating-towards-florida-space-1793597 ↩
- Business Insider. How Bricks Made From Invasive Seaweed Clean Mexico’s Beaches | World Wide Waste | Insider Business. YouTube. Published online July 21, 2023. Accessed January 23, 2024. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fXiboAGQvM ↩