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From Seaweed To Sanctuary: Gardner Takes Kelpy Nuisance And Turns It Into Bricks.

Omar Vasquez showing off house made from sargalock bricks

True innovators often have the ability to turn a problem for some into a solution for many. Omar Vazquez grew up in poverty on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. He watched his single mother struggle to put food on the table, and today the memory inspires him to help those in need. When a record amount an invasive seaweed called sargassum showed up on Mexico’s pristine Caribbean beaches, Omar looked past the nuisance of it all and saw an opportunity to help others.

Sargassum is not dangerous, but it smells like sewage and can become so thick that it keeps people from entering the water. Mexico has experienced record-setting amounts of the seaweed in recent years, and it has made its way to Florida’s beaches as well. Experts say there could be as much as 100 tons of the stuff clogging Mexican shorelines in 2023.

With tourism dollars at risk, officials and locals alike were keen to get rid of the algae, but only Omar saw its true potential. The professional gardener organized a beach cleanup that provided jobs for about 300 local families, but he knew there was more to do. Since people’s attitude towards the seaweed reminded him of his own life experiences, he decided to become an agent of change.

“When I look at Sargablock, it’s like looking in a mirror,” Omar explained. “When you have problems with drugs or alcohol, you’re viewed as a problem for society. No one wants anything to do with you. They look away.”

“When sargassum started arriving, it created a similar reaction,” he continued. “Everyone was complaining. “I wanted to mold something good out of something everyone saw as bad.”

In 2018, Omar found a way to turn sargassum into building blocks that he calls Sargablock. He creates these blocks by mixing 40% sargassum with other materials like clay, then putting them in a block-forming machine and baking them in the sun for days. The end result is an organic, sustainable, and ecologically-friendly building material that experts say could last for 120 years.

To date, Omar’s company, Bluegreen Mexico, has used 700 tons of sargassum to build low-income housing for those in need.

One of the first buildings Omar built was a new office space for his nursery business. He designed it to look just like his grandparents’ home, and he named it after his mother, Angelita. Once it was completed and he knew the Sargablocks work well, he took on more projects, paying special attention to single mothers like his own mom.

“The first thing that came to my mind and heart was to donate houses to women like my mother, who are doing everything in their power to make it work,” he said.

This desire to help families inspired him to create Casas Angelitas, a project that builds homes for struggling families out of Sargablocks. He has already built 14 homes for needy families.

Thousands of people can look at something like sargassum and see only a problem, but Omar saw potential! Thanks to his hard work and entrepreneurial spirit, 14 families have a safe shelter to call their own. We applaud his ingenuity and humanity.

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