5000-mile blob of seaweed heading to Florida

seaweed on sandy beach with small waves

A colossal 5000-mile wide mass of seaweed is heading towards the beaches of Florida, having formed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently travelling west, the epic mass will pass through the Caribbean and up into the Gulf of Mexico during the summer, with the seaweed expected to land on beaches in Florida around July, Dr. Brian Lapointe, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, told CNN.

The brown seaweed, a variety called sargassum, habitually forms in the Atlantic Ocean, with scientists tracking increasingly larger accumulations since 2011. It’s thought that this year’s mass could be the largest on record.

This sargassum bloom began to form early and doubled in size between December 2022 and January 2023, with the mass, according to Lapointe, being “larger in January than it has ever been since this new region of sargassum growth began in 2011.”

“This is an entirely new oceanographic phenomenon that is creating such a problem — really a catastrophic problem — for tourism in the Caribbean region where it piles up on beaches up to five or six feet deep.”

Although relatively harmless as it floats in the ocean, problems arise when it lands on the shore. As it decays in the sun, the sargassum seaweed releases hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs and can aggravate respiratory problems such as asthma, affecting both people’s health and the area’s attractiveness to tourist.

Is this what the people of Florida and the Caribbean have in store this summer?

In Barbados, authorities deploy hundreds of dumper trucks each year to clear the beaches for tourist season and, last year, the US Virgin Islands declared a state of emergency after being inundated by sargassum.

The reason for the massive sargassum formations is still unclear, but researchers suspect the seasonal nature of the outgrowths is linked to discharges of pollution from major waterways, according to The Guardian.

The climate crisis may also be contributing to the problem by causing stronger storms that stir up more seaweed and cause flash flooding that washes pollution into the sea.

One response to “5000-mile blob of seaweed heading to Florida”

  1. Liz Rolfs says:

    Is the sargassum a useful fertiliser?

This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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